Your knees are among the strongest joints in your body, they support your body weight while providing stability as you walk, run, bend, jump and lift. Your knees also allow you the mobility to sit and stand. Unfortunately, your knees are also the most commonly injured joints in your body.
The knee joint forms at the intersection of four bones, the femur (your thigh bone), the tibia and fibula (the two bones of your lower leg) and the patella, (your kneecap) which slides over the top of the joint as you bend your knee.
Your knees are supported and stabilized completely by the surrounding ligaments and muscles. The major ligaments are the cruciate ligaments which run across the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of the knee, and the collateral ligaments located on both sides of the knee. If you follow sports, you’ve surely heard of athletes with injuries to their ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament that connects the thigh bone to the lower leg and runs just beneath the patella.
In addition to ligaments, your knees are supported by several large muscle groups. The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of your thigh that straighten your knee when walking or standing. On the back of your leg your hamstrings run behind the knee and attach to the two bones of the lower leg, your tibia and fibula and are responsible for bending your knee. The remaining muscles involved in knee support and movement are the hip abductors (outer thigh) and hip adductors (inner thigh), the calf muscles and the glutes (the muscles of your buttocks).
Why the anatomy lesson? Aside from a direct impact injury, the major cause of knee pain is instability resulting from weak muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. Want to strengthen and stabilize your knees and reduce knee pain while increasing your range of motion? Strengthen the supporting muscle groups.
You may be able to reduce or eliminate your knee pain and improve your strength and mobility through exercise. The following low-impact exercises were selected to improve your strength and restore balance of the muscle groups supporting and stabilizing your knees:
1. Wall Slides
Cautions: Do not lower your body to the point that your knees extend beyond your toes, if they do, stop and reposition your feet slightly further from the wall.
2. Seated Straight-Leg Raises
Variations: If chairs are not available, you can perform this exercise flat on the floor with one leg straight and opposite leg bent with your foot flat on the floor. As you become stronger, you can add an ankle weight to increase the difficulty.
3. Seated Bent-Leg Raises
Strengthens the quadriceps just above the knee and the ligaments surrounding the joint.
4. Abductor Raises
Cautions: Don’t swing or throw the leg up, avoid using momentum. Slowly lift, hold, lower and repeat. Once you become stronger, consider adding an ankle weight.
5. Standing Hamstring Curls
Cautions: If you experience knee pain or cannot maintain a steady pace for your desired time, decrease your step height.
7. Stationary Bike
Strengthens hamstrings and knee ligaments while increasing range of motion without impact.
8. Quad Clenches
9. Short Arcs
10. Seated Knee Marching
Continue for a minimum of 1 minute and perform this exercise any time you feel stiffness in your knees.