Exercises to Strengthen Weak Knees - CalorieBee - Diet & Exercise
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Exercises to Strengthen Weak Knees

What Is a Weak Knee?

The muscles surrounding the knee need to be strong to support the joint—weak muscles can lead to stress and pain. That's why strengthening exercises are a popular noninvasive and effective method for treating knee pain.

Causes

There are many potential causes for knee pain, but the best way to diagnose it is to see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist or recommend x-rays or an MRI. If it is more serious, he or she may refer you to an orthopedist.

If you want to learn more about the cause of your knee pain or soreness, check the NIH webpage about knee problems. Here are some of the aggravating factors and triggers:

  • Overuse or misuse
  • Weak muscles
  • Acute injuries
  • Hormonal changes such as those that occur during puberty or pregnancy
  • Aging (osteoarthritis)
  • Uneven muscles or bones or other physical abnormalities
  • Being overweight

Supplements for Joints

The most popular supplements for joints are glucosamine based. It is effective and has very few side effects, providing you take the correct dosage and the supplement consists of high-quality, non-synthetic ingredients.

The best-selling glucosamine products are combinations of two or three compounds, glucosamine mixed with MSM and/or chondroitin. Although there is not enough research to establish the efficacy on MSM and chondroitin on joint health, people swear by it. It looks like the three are somehow synergistic, working better together.

What Type of Knee Problem Do You Face?

Help me make this page better. When you take this poll, you help me understand who my readers are and what they are expecting to find when they land here.

Invasive vs. Non-invasive Treatment for Your Knees

Non-invasive procedures are always the best when it comes to healing joints. Human articulations have very poor blood flow, so when they are injured (which includes surgery trauma), they heal slowly. Even for athletes, who usually heal more quickly than the rest of us, take a long time to recover from joint problems, and during that recovery time, there's an increased risk of another injury.

Other serious deterrents to surgery include:

  • Limping for at least a couple of weeks
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Poor rest during recovery
  • Very reduced physical activity during the recovery period

For this reason, surgeons and orthopedists will usually try a non-surgical approach, though in some cases a surgical intervention is absolutely necessary.

However, sometimes the surgery only addresses the symptoms, without fixing the root of the problem. For example, the surgical solution for a torn meniscus is to remove the torn piece of the meniscus that is blocking the articulation from moving properly or irritating the joint, and the surgical solution for osteoarthritis is to reshape the cartilaginous side of the bone so it moves freely.

This type of surgery is usually done with scopes, which reduces the recovery time. The surgery is called arthroscopy (arthroscopic surgery) and is a day surgery, meaning the patient goes home the same day. The recovery time is different for the different procedures, from a few weeks for a meniscectomy to a few months for an ACL reconstruction.

Why Are Exercises Necessary?

Even if you are getting surgery, a joint in good shape supported by strong muscles will significantly shorten your recovery time because the strong muscles will provide more blood flow in the joint. Blood flow is critical for proper healing, especially for a poor vascularised zone such as the susceptible zones of the knee.

This basically means that you should probably start your strengthening exercises now—at best, it will solve the problem; if not, it will be necessary for optimal recovery from surgery.

Breathable Neoprene Knee Support

During your strengthening exercises, a knee support is very useful because it reinforces the patella and stabilizes the joint, preventing displacement.

I have tried quite a few brace models, and many do not work very well. The brace needs to be designed in such way as to stabilize without being too restrictive—your blood should be able to flow freely and the skin should be able to breathe.

Important Tips for Knee Exercises!

Before starting the strengthening exercises, you need to know a few things:

  • Wear a knee support. Wearing a knee support will give your articulation more stability, so it won't swell up as easily. You definitely need to wear a brace when exercising.
  • Use topical anti-inflammatory. The use of a topical anti-inflammatory is absolutely vital. You may think that is not that important, but if your joint puffs up, you won't be able to do the exercises anymore, so you'll stop.
  • Use an exercise bicycle. An exercise bicycle is the best and safest way to exercise your quads.
  • Use NSAIDs only when absolutely needed. The painkillers should always be the last resort. There are serious side effects associated with oral NSAIDs.

Athletes With Knee Pain

Sometimes athletes will complain about knee pain that prevents them from performing at their highest ability. As previously mentioned, the first impulse is to blame the pain on weak muscles, since this is quite common. However, athletes are a special case—weak muscles are often not the problem.

Quite the opposite—for athletes tight muscles are the problem in many cases. When a muscle is injured, the body will naturally try to protect it by compensating with other muscles. Even when the injured muscle is fully recovered, the muscles that overcompensated will still remain tight. A tight muscle will pull the patella in an unnatural way, displacing it. The displaced patella then causes more friction and tension in the joint, leading to pain and inflammation.

Because of this, the solution in this case not a strengthening regimen, but a stretching routine. You want to increase the elasticity and flexibility of the tight muscles, ligaments, and tendons so that they stop pulling the patella out of place.

Muscles that can directly or indirectly cause problems in your knees are glutes (gluteus maximus), quads (quadriceps), and hamstrings. The IT Band (iliotibial band) also can cause problems for the knees if it's too tight or inflexible.

The best course of action is to see a physiotherapist. A professional can run a series of tests to determine which muscles or tendons are tight. This is important so you can adapt your stretching exercises. If you can't see a physiotherapist, you can try to do this by yourself, stretching all the muscles to make sure there is no unnatural pull on your knee.

Cyclists

Cyclists

Biking

The easiest exercise for knees is riding a bicycle. Cycling is very easy on the leg joints and will definitely strengthen your muscles around the knees. Don't underestimate biking as part of your strengthening routine. This is probably one of the most fun ways to get the right muscles to work with the least impact on the joint, and it yields impressive results. When all else fails because your joint is too sensitive, biking will work.

When I started biking, I would only take up flat roads because hills would put too much strain on my knees. However, in time, my muscles got stronger, properly supporting my knees, and I was able to go from home to work and back without problems.

If you live in a hilly area, like I do, get a bike with gears so you can change the speed and torque. For the uphill ride, you need to lower the torque so it doesn't push your articulations too much.

However, if you don't have to bike uphill, you can definitely get a one-gear bike, also known as a fixie. The fixies are actually my favorites.

Elderly people swimming

Elderly people swimming

Swimming

Swimming is another great option for your knee strengthening exercising. It has low impact on all joints, it is fun and it works out exactly the muscles that need reinforcement.

The best swimming style for your lower limbs articulations is crawl. Crawling is the perfect combination of low impact on the sensitive joints and great workout for the muscles to reinforce. You could also use a swimming pad and swim only using your legs motion. This gives you a bit more control over the movement.

I actually love the swimming not only for my knee, but because it stretches my other body parts, that are still affected by the long period of time limping, and unhealthy body positions. When I realized how good swimming, and playing in a pool, was for my entire body, I got hooked immediately, and my four years old son is more than happy about my new hobby.

Photo Credit: jonfeinstein via Flickr.com

Knee strengthening exercise

Knee strengthening exercise

Side-Lying Hip Abduction (Gluteus Workout)

Lie on your side with your body in a straight line. Lift the top leg as high as you can. The move should be done in such way that your upper body doesn't move. If you do it properly, you will feel your gluteal muscles working hard.

Do this exercise 10 times per side for three sets.

The glutes are important they can indirectly affect your knees. If the glutes are weak, other muscles in the back of the knee will compensate, causing tight hamstrings, which can put unnatural pressure on the meniscus.

Seated Leg Lifts

Sitting on the edge of a seat (your back should not touch the back of the chair), straighten one leg so it forms a 90-degree angle with the rest of the body. The joint should be straight, so that you exercise the right muscles. If the knee is bent, you will use other muscles.

Hold the leg straight for about 30 seconds and then do the same with the other leg. Repeat three to four times.

In time, as your muscles become stronger, you can incrementally increase the time from 30 seconds to up to 60 seconds. Be careful not to overdo it—you do not want your muscles to feel tired the next day. Always keep a balance.

An alternative to this exercise is to hold the leg straight for 3-4 seconds, and then rest. Repeat this 10 times, for three or four cycles.

Lying Leg Lifts

Weak knee exercise

Weak knee exercise

Lie on your back on a firm surface, such as a yoga mat or something similar. Keeping your knee straight, tighten the thigh muscles in one leg and lift it from the floor off of the mat about 40 degrees. Hold the leg in position for two to three seconds. Do this exercise 10 times on each side for three sets.

Bridge

The previous two exercises are easiest, so start with them first. Once they feel too easy, you can start with these.

For the bridge, start out by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, roughly hip distance apart. Breathe in and lift your torso off of the ground so that your body and thighs form a straight line. Breathe out and lower your body back to the ground, then repeat.

Once the above exercise feels easy, you can make it more challenging with the following modification. Start in the same position, and extend one leg so that it is straight on the ground. You will keep this leg in a straight line with your body throughout the exercise. As your breathe in and lift your torso for the bridge, keep this leg in line with your body, so that it is lifted above the ground. Breathe out and lower both your body and your leg. After working out one side, switch to the other.

Recumbent Cycle

An exercise bicycle is the best way to strengthen the muscles around the knee without needing to go outside. You can just watch your favorite TV show and work your muscles. Doing so is much easier than other workouts because the time flies by, so you don't even realize you've done your daily knee exercise.

Step-Ups

Step-up exercises

Step-up exercises

These are advanced exercises meant for those who already have strong muscles. If you haven't done the previous ones, approach these with caution, and stop if your joints get irritated. For best results, use an anti-inflammatory cream such as Penetrex.

Forward

Using a five-to-six-inch-high stool, step forward up onto it using a slow, controlled motion. The more controlled the motion, the more difficult the exercise. Step down, returning to the starting position. Increase the height of the platform, and use an even slower motion as strength increases. Repeat for three sets of 10 times each.

Lateral

Standing on the side of a six-inch high stool, make a lateral step up onto the stool, leading with your weak knee leg. Step down, returning to the starting position.

Oral NSAID and Painkillers

When your joints are swollen and in a lot of pain, a very efficient way to decrease the inflammation and to control the suffering is to take acetaminophen and ibuprofen together. After my knee surgery, my doctor recommended me to take this cocktail for a few days, and it worked perfectly for me.

However, you need to speak to your doctor about taking these together. Self medication is very dangerous and the combination could have serious consequences for some people.

Here are the results of an NIH study about the efficiency of ibuprofen plus acetaminophen.

Step-Downs

Step-downs

Step-downs

Stand on a stepping box or a stair step. Slowly lower your self to the floor (or the next stair step), by bending the support knee. The support foot should not move. Then slowly return to your original position. The slower the movement, the harder the exercise.

Note, this is an advanced exercise that will put a lot of strain on your muscles and could even cause your joint to swell if you have weak muscles around the joint or an underlying condition, such as a joint injury.

This is one of the most strenuous routines listed here, and it should be done after the easier exercises no longer provide any challenge.

You could make this exercise as hard as you like by either modifying the height of the step-up box, or the speed of the motion, or both. The taller the box and slower the motion, the more challenging the exercise.

My Knee (Photo Credit Dorian)

My Knee (Photo Credit Dorian)

My Story

Not everybody's story is the same—the best course of action is to see a doctor or physiotherapist to make an accurate assessment of the situation and propose a personalized plan. But here is my knee-problem story:

When I was young, I practiced a lot of sports, my favorites being judo and soccer. During a judo training session, I badly injured my knee, and I have suffered for more than 20 years now. I had some treatment at the time, but because I didn't fully understand the gravity of the situation, I ignored the doctor's advice, and my knee got worse. Over the years, its condition fluctuated, but usually it would swell after a soccer game, or even after an intense jogging. Eventually, it reached the point where it would with the slightest physical exercise, and I went to see a specialist.

As I explained previously, my family doctor took a rather progressive approach, trying small fixes before resorting to surgery. He first recommended orthotics. After a few months with the new shoe pads, nothing improved. There was a big chance, though, that my knee problem was caused by an incorrect position of the feet, and the shoe pads were supposed to relieve any extra pressure my feet could be having on my knees.

My next appointment was with a physiotherapist, who gave me a set of progressive exercises, like the ones listed on this page. Everything seemed to progress nicely until I got to the difficult exercises, which invariably caused swelling, even when I tried doing them less frequently or with fewer repetitions. This was the point where I had to see a surgeon.

The surgeon recommended removing a torn piece of meniscus that was causing the irritation. I did, (my first surgery ever), and now my knee is way better.

My recovery took longer than an average person's, partly because of my reluctance to doing the exercises. Before the surgery, a swollen knee could stay that way for weeks and even months. After the surgery, my joint was way better. Even if it swelled, applying ice would return it to normal overnight or in two days. It took me long time to realize that my knee was behaving differently now.

I am now almost 100 percent recovered, the exercises do not cause swelling to my knees anymore, and I even started to play a bit of soccer. I will keep this page up to date with my progress.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I ruptured my left PCL just over 18 months ago. I'm getting a lot of compensation pain on the right side of my body. Sadly its been very mismanaged and physio has generally made me worse as they don't seem to assess me properly. If I crouch down I can lift easily on my right leg but on the left its painful and I can hardly do it without shifting my weight, which is also happening in walking. What exercises would help a ruptured PCL?

Answer: I suggest you see an orthopedist if the physiotherapists don't asses you properly. You will get the best advice from a specialist. Remember, I am not a doctor and my advice here is only informational.

Having said that, if I had your problem I would start with stretching. You want your muscles and ligaments to be flexible. There might be some scar tissue in your knee that causes you pain when you bend the knee. Stretching alone might not be enough to break the scar tissue. But this is out of the article's scope.

I would be doing all the exercises that force me to use one leg on its own. This avoids compensation.

Comments

babs on September 15, 2014:

Great intormation

SilverLotus1 on July 12, 2014:

lots of good info!

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on April 04, 2014:

Great knee exercises! I already do my own home floor exercises but I see a few exercises here that I want to incorporate into my routine. Thanks for sharing.

Dorian Bodnariuc (author) from Ottawa, Ontario Canada on March 25, 2014:

@Donna Cook: Mee too, but on the bright side I can now do physical activity without flaring up too much.

Donna Cook on March 25, 2014:

Terrific lens! I've been scoped and need to keep doing rehab even after 30 years.

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on March 23, 2014:

One weak joint can definitely turn your life upside down and knees are no exception. I dislocated an arm few years ago, I was very lucky and recovered 100 percent, but lost more than half of the year and I can't imagine how will if the same happened to one of my knees ... I try to exercise on regular basis, because investment in health is still the most profitable one:)

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on February 25, 2014:

Great information. Both my husband and I have bad knees, never thought of swimming, must try.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on January 13, 2014:

Wow, with all this helpful information I can exercise my knees back into shape.

jigmed91 on December 04, 2013:

Great great info u got there.. i've been experiencing a lot of knee injuries lately and seriously needed a proper guidance to its care.. u're info really helped me.. Thank you.. peace .:)

Mohan Babu from Chennai, India on December 02, 2013:

Pretty useful

SmartYoga on October 29, 2013:

Yes! I have always had somewhat weak knees, and have found that yoga, if done gently and built up over time, has helped! it tends to be good for joints in general. It's really important to warm up the knees first, and not put too much pressure on them to begin with. Also, obviously, listen to your body, everyone is different!

pjsart on October 23, 2013:

I met a doctor in her late seventies out hiking and she said her secret was yoga...that it strengthened her legs. Has anyone used yoga for knee problems?

Dorian Bodnariuc (author) from Ottawa, Ontario Canada on October 18, 2013:

@Johanna Eisler: Great exercises, they helped me a lot. I'm glad the lens helps you.

Johanna Eisler on October 18, 2013:

I'm so glad I found this lens! It's going to be very useful! I did many of these exercises following knee surgery many years ago, but I had forgotten them! Thank you for the reminders! :)

Delia on October 12, 2013:

Great and useful information...thanks for sharing!

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on October 01, 2013:

some useful tips here for strengthening my weak knees. thanks for a very informative post.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 23, 2013:

Really worthwhile tips. My husband is now wearing a brace as he tore his muscles months ago. He needs to lose weight and do these exercises.

TanoCalvenoa on September 23, 2013:

This is a lot of information, very helpful for people with knee problems.

Lorna from USA on September 04, 2013:

I can use some of these exercises, I have a mild knee problem sometimes. Very informative lens, thanks!

RuralFloridaLiving on September 01, 2013:

Good lens - very informative!

anonymous on August 30, 2013:

I have weak knees, and sometimes I can't even go for a walk. I will try the exercises, probably the less demanding ones are for me.

Birthday Wishes from Here on August 21, 2013:

Very nice lens!!! It is very useful for me... Thanks a lot for sharing!

mel-kav on August 16, 2013:

Wonderful lens! Glad you are recovering well from the surgery.

atomicjuggler on August 14, 2013:

Great information...THANKS!

SamanthaHaupt on August 11, 2013:

Nice tips!

diligentwheel lm on August 11, 2013:

great lens!

shewins on August 01, 2013:

Such great information. Thanks!

savateuse on July 27, 2013:

Thanks for this very useful resource!

anonymous on July 20, 2013:

Thanks for the knee strengthening exercises. I have been looking for some videos to show me exactly the exercises.

mariacarbonara on July 16, 2013:

Agree with you, a lot of people don't realise knee problems come from not using your knees. A few leg exercises a few times a week can make a huge difference

Fay Favored from USA on July 15, 2013:

I wanted to come back and thank you for this article. After I read it I did some of the exercises. Good suggestions and most are easy to do. Appreciate it.

vicky71 on July 15, 2013:

This is a super Lens.. I have weak knees..My father has weak knees.. He now can't walk properly. This is a precious info lens for me..Thanks

JuneMary LM on July 15, 2013:

This is a very helpful lens. Thank you. Since falling down concrete steps and landing on one knee 2 years ago, I now have problems with the other knee because of the stress placed on it whilst the damaged one mended! I find glucosamine and MSM very helpful with none of the bad side effects which drugs produce. I shall add the stair/step exercises to the ones I do. Thanks.

buffychester on July 14, 2013:

Yes very helpful, I've been worried about my knees lately, thank you!

Fay Favored from USA on July 13, 2013:

This information with the videos has been very helpful. I really promote GC with MDM products and have used them ever since my mother told me about them.

suepogson on July 11, 2013:

This is really helpful - thank you.

sharadkgupta lm on July 05, 2013:

Greta job done by you in this lens . thanks for sharing.

WriterJanis2 on July 05, 2013:

I didn't know there were so many exercises to strengthen weak knees. It's nice there's a variety for people to choose from.

jericho911 lm on July 05, 2013:

I will definitely put some of your suggestions to good use ! I appreciate the hard work you put in to create this useful lens !

tammywilliams09 on July 04, 2013:

Thanks for the lens! Thanks for suggesting supplements and exercise machines. I heard that Biking and Swimming was great and you confirmed that too.

jpmny999 on June 28, 2013:

Great lens. Very helpful!

ChristyZ on June 19, 2013:

Great information, very helpful!

anonymous on June 14, 2013:

this is such a nice lens and very helpful. Saying Hi and thanking you for visiting my lens.have a nice day always

Snakesmum on May 10, 2013:

Some of these exercises are just what my partner needs, thanks!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 15, 2013:

Thanks for putting up the pictures. It makes it easy to follow.

anonymous on April 08, 2013:

Great read! I will recommend this lens to my uncle. He has been suffering from knee pain from years. Keep up the good work.

anonymous on March 29, 2013:

Wow...I have had weak knees, one more than the other in the past. Went for physio for weeks. Eventually I built the muscles around the knee.This is a great page, you have also inspired me to add that and more to my exercises for women over 50 page! I.m learning so much! Thanks!

BerlinChiropractic on March 25, 2013:

Great lens! braces, exercise and anti-inflammatories are a great combo for knee weakness

comfortyourfeet on March 14, 2013:

Knees can cause such problems when not conditioned. Great lens and info.

jayavi on March 06, 2013:

Thanks for sharing valuable information. good for any age specially for elders.

chi kung on March 03, 2013:

wow, you collected a handful of great exercises for knee weekness! very informative lense with a lot of great products as well!doing chikung also helps people with knee problems - I highly recommend it to everybody :)

deyanis from Oz on February 19, 2013:

Thank you for sharing lots of helpful tips, I will definitely try the Weak Knees Strengthening Exercises.

LiliLove on February 19, 2013:

Very informative lens! Thank you for sharing!

Takkhis on February 18, 2013:

What a great informative lens! Thanks for sharing all these stuffs :)

VeseliDan on February 13, 2013:

Thanks for these great tips on how to strengthen week knees. I will try some of these exercises.

lilPinkfairy288 on January 24, 2013:

Very good information. I might tell me mom to try out these items. Nice share!

TonfaGuy on January 14, 2013:

I've dislocated both knees many times...This is a good lens.

anonymous on January 13, 2013:

Sometimes my knees get weak all of a sudden. These exercises will be a big help.

Maria Burgess from Las Vegas, Nevada on January 13, 2013:

I will apply these excersizes to my routines. I sit for long periods of time driving and it has affected the muscle structure around my knees. This is valuable information for me! Thanks for sharing!

Sharyn Read from ... either in the kitchen or at my laptop... on January 13, 2013:

I had to give up running in my early forties because of knee concerns. I bought a bike and am constantly amazed at how easy it is to do longer distances and not have recovery issues. Good info, going to follow up on a couple of your suggestions, so thanks!

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on October 16, 2012:

Sometimes my knees buckle because they're pretty weak so this is very helpful.

John Dyhouse from UK on October 15, 2012:

Useful and informative lens, thanks for the efforts you have put in to creating this lens.

Isabellas-cabin on September 29, 2012:

Great information! I know I have a partially torn ACL and have been dealing with it for years. I have heard of some of these items, but not all of them! Thank you for sharing!

RedShoesGirl on September 29, 2012:

This is very helpful information. I have knee issues and I am always happy to find new info about this subject.

Tea Pixie on September 28, 2012:

Fabo info here! I am on the hunt for a knee support now. I know about the bike riding and find I am okay until I meet a hill. That's when I blow out my knee all over again. I have learned and now walk my bike up the hill. Thanks for sharing.

Dorian Bodnariuc (author) from Ottawa, Ontario Canada on September 27, 2012:

I actually use Penetrex, I have some knee problems as well. It really works great for me. I first tried it a few moths ago, and it wasn't famous at the time. Now is one of the best sellers on Amazon.

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