Knee Saving Exercises
The knee is a sensitive joint, and at one time it was feared that vigorous exercise would in time wear out the knee, eventually leading to osteoarthritis. Not so. Actual research--including data on 150 lifetime female exercisers in England--found little association between habitual exercise of any kind and increased risk of developing painful arthritic knees.
Still, things can go wrong. The most common forms of sudden injury are tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), deep inside the knee. Women suffer about three times more ACL injuries than men.
Women also seem to have more than their share of painful kneecap problems, such as bursitis and tendinitis (two types of inflammation) and iliotibial band syndrome (tight tendons that rub the bones and cause irritation) and chondromalacia (softening of cartilage).
But bad knees don't have to stand in the way of your fitness program. Muscle-strengthening exercises can help prevent most kneecap problems.
"The secret to keeping a knee healthy throughout your life is to condition the long muscles and tendons connected to it," says Dr. Hamner. Your hamstring muscle runs up and down the entire back of your leg, not only supporting the ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee but also stabilizing your ankle. In front, your mighty quadriceps supports your kneecap by connecting it to the entire front of your thigh and the tendons across your hip.
A torn ACL usually calls for surgery. But the more supported your knee is by the connecting muscles and tendons, the better you avoid or recover from injury. And since we lose protective cartilage around our kneecaps as we age, it's all the more important to strengthen our legs to reduce stress to the knees. Maintaining strength and flexibility of your entire leg can also lessen the discomfort of any knee overuse condition, such as bursitis, tendinitis, or arthritis.
If you have had a previous knee injury, you are at greater risk for developing osteoarthritis in your knee. Under your doctor's direction, a physical therapist or certified fitness instructor can give you a specialized routine.
Otherwise, Dr. Hamner recommends these knee-safe moves to prevent injury or for rehabilitation. (Before beginning exercises for rehabilitation, check with your doctor).
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart approximately 18 inches from a wall. Keeping your head and back against the wall, slide down until your knees are at about a 45-degree angle. Hold this position for 60 seconds. Repeat three times. As your knees recover, you can push in to the wall with your back to slide between standing and squatting positions up to 15 times, but never squat so deeply that your hips drop below the level of your knees.
What makes it a knee saver: Conditions quadriceps and hamstrings to stabilize the knee. The wall prevents the tendency to use your back or overflex your knees during squats.
Straight and Rotated Knee Extensions
Start with your back against a wall, with your right leg bent and foot flat on the floor. Extend your left leg straight out in front of you, about 8 inches above the ground. Bring your left leg in and extend it back out to a straight leg with your toes up. Do two sets of 15 repetitions. Do a third set of 15 repetitions, but with your leg and ankle turned out. Repeat on the other side.
What makes it a knee saver: The first two sets concentrate on building strength in all four quad muscles. The third set gives special attention to your inner quads, which tend to be weaker than the rest.
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