At-Home Exercises for Knee Pain

Most people will experience knee pain at some paint, says physical therapist Gary Calabrese, senior director of rehabilitation and sports therapy at the Cleveland Clinic.

“The causes of knee pain vary from direct trauma, such as a broken bone or torn ligament, to overuse or wear-and-tear related pain,” Calabrese says. “The largest joint in the body, the knee, is a complex mechanism made of bone, cartilage and ligaments.”

The cartilage in your knee acts as a cushion and a gliding surface. “When healthy, the cartilage keeps the bones in the joint from rubbing together,” Calabrese says. “However, when the joint is affected by arthritis, the bones make contact and cause pain.” Injuries, aging and degenerative conditions like arthritis can cause the cartilage to break down.

[Read: Exercises for Osteoarthritis.]

Fortunately, there are a number of exercises you can do at home to mitigate knee pain.

Here are nine at-home exercises you can do for knee pain:

— Calf stretching.

— Calf raise strengthening.

— Clam shell hip exercise.

— Glute bridge.

— Toe up forward step up.

— Standing band hip abductions.

— Quadriceps set.

— Recumbent bike exercise.

— Step downs from a stair.

1. Calf stretching. Stand in front of a wall with your hands placed on it for support. Slowly, step backward until you feel a gentle stretch on the back of your calf. Making sure your heels are flat on the floor, hold that position for 30 to 45 seconds, then return to upright standing, Calabrese says. Perform this stretch three to five times.

2. Calf raise strengthening. Stand with support by placing your hands on a table, and then raise up on your toes for a two-second count, while keeping equal pressure on both legs. Lower slowly at a four-second count. Relax, and repeat the exercise 12 times, one to three times a day.

[See: How to Practice Yoga When You Have Arthritis or Another Chronic Condition.]

3. Clam shell hip exercise. To strengthen the hip muscle, lie on your side with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Place a pillow between your knees and rest your head on your lower arm. “Be sure that your hip bones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to roll or rock backward,” Calabrese says. Keep your feet touching while raising your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Keep your lower leg on the floor, and slowly return to the starting position. Relax. Do 12 repetitions, three times a day.

4. Glute bridge. While lying on the floor, bend your knees to a comfortable angle of about 90 degrees while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Lift both your hips up toward the ceiling. You can also do this exercise while putting a mini-band around the knees, Calabrese says. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.

5. Toe up forward step up. This is a good exercise to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves to battle general knee pain, says Madison “Madi” Franek, a physical therapist with UNC Therapy Services in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Begin by standing with the affected leg on top of a 4- to 6-inch step and the unaffected leg on the ground, with the toes up so they aren’t touching the floor. If balance is an issue, stand next to a steady object, like handrails, that you can use for support.

In a controlled fashion, step up with the affected leg by imagining you’re driving your foot through the step to the ground. With your unaffected leg, reach back in a controlled manner toward the ground and repeat. After stepping up, reach back towards the ground in a controlled manner, with your unaffected leg, and repeat. Aim to do two or three sets of six to eight repetitions.

6. Standing elastic hip abductions. This exercise strengthens the hip muscles to maintain knee stability, says Sridhar Yalamanchili, a physical therapist with Atlantic Spine Center in West Orange, New Jersey. While standing, place a small elastic band around your ankles. While keeping the other leg stationary, move one leg sideways, until the band is fully stretched. Return the leg to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Hold on to a table or chair for balance if you need to. Repeat two sets of 10 per leg. The bands are color-coded for various strengths. Beginners should start with lighter-colored bands and work their way up, Yalamanchili says. Do two to three sets of 10 repetitions for both sides.

7. Quadriceps set. To do this quadriceps strengthening exercise, lie or sit with your leg out straight. Tighten the muscle in the front of your thigh as much as you can, pushing the back of your knee flat against the floor. As you tighten your muscle, this will pull your kneecap up to your thigh, toward your hip. Hold the muscle tight for five seconds. Do 12 repetitions of this exercise, three times a day.

8. Recumbent bike exercise. Using a recumbent bike is a great way to increase range of motion while minimizing the forces that are placed on the knee joint. “The bike provides a workout for individuals of all ability levels,” says Brooke Ellis, a physical therapist and outpatient physical therapy supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas. “You have full back support and it puts less stress on the joints.”

9. Step downs from a stair. This exercise strengthens the hip muscles in a functional movement pattern while mimicking stair climbing, Yalamanchili says. Stand on the stair that’s lowest to the ground. While standing sideways, gradually lower the foot that’s closest to the ground off the stair. (Because you are standing sideways on the stair, one foot is closer to the ground and the other is closer to the next stair.) Bring it back to the stair. Do two sets of 10 for each leg.

[See: The 10 Best Exercises You Can Do for the Rest of Your Life.]

Here Are Three Common Causes of Knee Pain:

— Trauma or overuse.

— Sports injuries.

Osteoarthritis of the knee.

1. Trauma or overuse. Knee pain in active younger individuals, including athletes, commonly occurs on the anterior (front) of the knee. This is called anterior knee pain. Between 25% and 75% of young athletic people experience knee pain, Calabrese says. “The pain is usually related to high-volume activities that include running and jumping movements,” he says.

2. Sports injuries. Non-contact movement or contact can cause sports injuries, which are a major cause of knee pain for people in different age groups, Calabrese says. Disruption of the knee ligaments — the stabilizers of the knee — can be from both. “The anterior cruciate ligament inside the knee is a common sports injury and accounts for more than 125,000 injuries a year,” he says. A stretch or tear of the medial collateral ligament outside the joint is typically caused by a hit or blow to the outer knee. Another common sports injury involves the meniscus, a crescent-shaped cartilage between your thigh bone and lower leg. Meniscus injuries are often caused by sudden twisting, resulting in swelling, pain and locking of the knee.

3. Osteoarthritis of the knee. This condition is considered a “wear-and-tear” problem where the knee’s natural shock absorber is compromised. This happens when the cartilage that lines the ends of the two bones making up the knee joint start to thin and bring the bones closer together, eventually rubbing on each other. “The thinning or wear can be very mild or severe,” Calabrese says. Several factors are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, including increased age and a person’s weight. Common symptoms include:

— Swelling.

— A decrease in the ability to bend or straighten the knee completely.

— Stiffness.

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