Knee pain and arthritis is very common. Our knees are used and overused throughout the day. Every time we stand up, sit down, walk, run, bike, drive, etc, we are using our knees and putting stress on our knees. Whether you sit all day or are on your feet all day, life is tough on your knees.
In a study published in 2006 in the Journal of Rheumatology (Nov, v 33(11):227-9), it was found that the prevalence of knee arthritis among adults in the United States was high. 37.4% of adults had knee osteoarthritis, while 12.1% had painful knee osteoarthritis.
Sitting for long periods is very hard on your body. It slowly causes your body to tighten up. The muscles that support you and keep joints in place get tight, locked up and overused. As you sit, your body slowly molds into the chair. Sitting causes the muscles in your neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, elbows and wrists to get progressively tighter and more irritated. It also slowly irritates the muscles in your lower back, hips, stomach/ abdominals, legs, knees and ankles.
Over time this slow irritation builds up and the effects are the same as a traumatic event like a car accident. It is called repetitive or cumulative trauma. The muscles get so tight that they tear on a microscopic level and fall into a pattern of spasm and inflammation. The muscles are sprained or strained. The best way to prevent this is by exercising. But you have to do the right kind of exercises, ones that are easy on your knees, and ones that won’t flair up your already painful knees.
Regardless of how you injured your knees, you will want to strengthen up all of the muscles that attach to your knees and all of the muscles that are connected to, and are affected by, the knees. You also need to stretch out all of the muscles that attach to your knees, and the muscles that are associated with your knees. These muscles are: the hip muscles (gluteals, abdominals, low back extensors), leg muscles (hamstrings and quadriceps), lower leg and ankle muscles (gastrocs, soleus, tibialis muscles, medial and lateral stabilizer muscles, plantar fascia).
All of those muscles are used to stabilize your knees, will affect your knees and be affected by your knees. Every time you use your knee joints you are using most if not all of these muscles. If you want to stabilize your knees then you need to address all of these muscles. The good thing is that there are many exercises that will accomplish this and are easy to perform and easy to do at home. You just have to know what you are doing.
A great exercise to start with that will stabilize the knee, decrease pain in the knee and increase use of the knee, is the barefoot balancing exercise. Start out with no shoes or socks on, and stand on one foot. Stand on one foot for 20 to 30 seconds. If that is too much then try to stand for 10 seconds on each foot. Do this once a day, every day. Keep a chair within reach, or stand close to a wall so that if you start to fall over you will be able to grab onto something to stabilize yourself. Also try to raise the arch of your foot off of the floor. This will align you while you stand and will strengthen up the major balancing and stabilizing muscles in your calves that attach to, and affect, your ankles, feet, legs and hips.
This exercise is great for improving balance and for stabilizing the knees, hips, and ankles. Balance can be affected by neurological problems. But even if bad balance is caused by a neurological issue, it can still be improved upon by working, and strengthening, these balancing muscles. Balance is mostly controlled by muscles. So if you can strengthen up your balancing muscles, you will improve your balance. The old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ is very accurate when it comes to muscles and strength. If you don’t work your balancing muscles, your balance will only worsen as you get older.
Most of our lives are spent on walking on flat, level surfaces. You need no balance to walk on these surfaces. If you don’t do anything to work your balancing muscles, you will lose your balance as you age. It is never too late to start increasing your strength through exercise. Even if you start working on your balancing muscles at age 80, you will be able to improve your balance.
Another great exercise for your knees is riding a bike. You can ride a regular bike or a stationary bike. Either one will benefit you. It will take more balance and is harder to ride a bike outdoors. If you haven’t ridden a bike in years and haven’t exercised in years and have arthritis and knee pain, you should start on a stationary bike. The stationary bike is a great cardio-vascular workout. It maintains the range of motion in your knees by keeping your knees going through their full range of motion with each pedal stroke.
‘Use it or lose it’ also pertains to ranges of motion. If you don’t keep a joint going through its’ full range of motion, you will eventually start losing more and more range of motion in that joint. Even if it is painful to keep the joint moving, you have to keep moving it. Otherwise the joint will get stiffer and you will lose more range of motion as time goes on.
Each pedal stroke of a bike will cause your knee to go through its’ full range of motion, but with no impact. So you won’t be doing more damage to the already irritated and painful knee joint. It is a great way to get some exercise while maintaining and preserving range of motion of your knees.
The following slide show shows some other exercises that are good for knees, and are easy on painful and irritated knees. The main thing to keep in mind is just to keep moving. As long as you keep moving, things will get better and you will maintain range of motion and use of that joint. If you stop moving, you will speed up the degeneration of the knee (and the rest of your body) and decrease how much you can use your knees.
Decreasing pain while increasing range of motion and increasing the use of an irritated and degenerating joint is very possible. Doing it without drugs or surgery is the Pain Free Way.