Being a runner, one of the most common reasons I hear of people avoiding running are “I just have bad knees” or “My knees don’t allow me to do that.” Knee pain is very common, and can happen in many forms. From patellofemoral pain to ACL sprains, to arthritis. For runners, it could be form related, or getting into the right pair of shoes. There are many factors that can go into the causes of knee pain. Of course it takes an individualized approach from a skilled physical therapist to meet specific needs and goals, but here are some of the most beneficial exercises I have found while treating active people with knee pain.
Terminal Knee Extensions
Otherwise known as TKEs, this exercise focuses on strengthening the quad muscle which is the most responsible for knee stability. Digging even further, this exercise helps to activate the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) that controls patellar tracking. This exercise uses a band that is anchored to a stable surface and loops around the back of the knee. While the foot is kept in place, allowing the knee to bend and then back to straighten.
Squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening, however sometimes they can provoke discomfort. Performing a Spanish Squat instead will help strengthen the knee while taking pressure off the anterior structures, or front part of the knees. Doing squats helps build up quite a few muscle groups, including your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. When doing Spanish squats, loop a band around a stable surface and behind both knees. Make sure to keep your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips and knees as if you are about to sit back in a chair.
Like squats, lunges are great for building leg strength around your knees. To do a lunge, begin by standing with both feet together. Take a step backward with one foot while bending both knees until they create 90-degree angles. Push off from the back leg to return to a standing position before repeating on the other side.
Eccentric Step Ups
Eccentric loading is key for muscle and especially tendon health. Eccentric step ups are basically the opposite of stepping up onto a surface. To perform an eccentric step up, find a stair or box about knee-height and stand on that surface. Step backward with one foot, slowly allowing the knee still on the step to bend, until the other foot comes to rest on the floor. Adding weights will increase difficulty if desired.
Knees are built for stability and have to take a lot of force every day. Whether you love running, hiking, or just being outdoors, these exercises are sure to increase knee strength and stability to get you back to doing the things you love. Don’t let your “bad knees” be a reason that you can’t participate in all life has to offer. There are solutions! Make an appointment today with one of our physical therapists today to get your knees back to 100%!
Thanks for reading!
Andrew Maddox PT, DPT
Originally interested in architecture, Andrew loves getting to know people personally and helping them achieve their goals through that engineering mentality of human movement. He loves to celebrate all his patients' accomplishments and takes your experiences and viewpoints into consideration with every decision made to help you become your best, pain-free self. Andrew lives in Stone Mountain Village with his wife, Stephanie. They have 2 dogs: Chipper (Lab mix) and Benji (Corgi/Blue Heeler). They enjoy a long walk in the park, camping, sporting events, and visiting coffee shops in the Atlanta area. You can catch him running with the Dunwoody Road Runners group to combine his passion with creating community.