6 Exercises for Knee Pain

By Lauren Bedosky |

Mastering mobility, stability, and strength exercises, like these recommended by Life Time’s LifeClinic physical therapist Debbie Lensing, DPT, OCS, Cert-DN, can play a major role in keeping your knees healthy for life. Perform the first two moves every day and the other moves three or four times per week.

Note: If you have moderate knee pain that doesn’t improve after two weeks, consult a physical therapist about targeted treatment. If you can’t walk without limping, suffer from acute knee pain and swelling, or have been diagnosed with a medical condition like osteoarthritis, seek professional help before beginning this program.

1. Mulligan Mobilization With Ankle Movement

This move increases ankle mobility, which helps prevent compensation at the knees when you squat or climb stairs.

  1. If this move is hard on your back knee, kneel on a yoga mat or blanket.

2. Foam Rolling Quads and Hip Flexors

Loosening your quad and hip-flexor muscles with a foam roller can help release pressure on the knee cap.

  1. Aim to roll out two or three times per day, as well as after your workout when your muscles are warm.

3. Single-Leg Bridge With Knee toward Chest

Use this exercise to activate your glute muscles before tackling more challenging glute-focused strength moves. Pulling one knee to your chest at the top of the exercise helps prepare your glute muscles for moves like lunges, split squats, and running, and can be especially helpful to counteract overactive hip flexors.

  1. Perform two or three sets of 20 reps per side. If this move is too challenging, start by simply raising one foot off the floor from bridge position. Or keep both feet on the floor until you’re ready to try the single-leg version.

4. Banded Lateral Walk

Strengthen your side-butt muscles to shore up hip stability and prevent your knees from collapsing inward while running or squatting.

  1. Keep your torso steady as you side-step to avoid rocking motions. To make the move easier, use a band with less resistance, take smaller steps, or move the band up above the knees. To make the move more challenging, use a heavier resistance band, take wider steps, or loop the band around your forefeet.

5. Single-Leg Box Squat

Runners in particular will benefit from mastering this squat. “You’re leaping from one leg to another repeatedly, sometimes for 13.1 to 26.2 miles,” Lensing explains. But even if you’re not a runner, the single-leg squat will assist you in building glute strength and overall balance, which helps offload pressure from your knees.

  1. Gradually lower the box or bench height until you’re able to squat at full depth (thighs at or below parallel to the floor). To make the move easier, raise the box or bench height, or kickstand your opposite foot to help you balance.

6. Single-Leg Squat reach

Once you’ve mastered the single-leg box squat, progress to this next-level version that incorporates a functional rotational movement. This single-leg move will challenge you to keep your knee steady while you rotate, which is especially helpful for people who run or play rotational sports like baseball or tennis.

  1. To make the move easier, place a slider or folded towel under your back foot and simply slide it backward instead of lifting it off the floor. To make the move more challenging, reach while holding 5 to 10 pounds in each hand.

This originally appeared as “Knee Know-How” in the December 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

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