Step Up Your Game – Strengthening Exercises for Your Knees
Knee injuries are a concern among both professional and recreational athletes. A knee injury can put an athlete out of commission for months and can permanently affect future performance if not properly treated.
Knee strengthening exercises can both prevent injury and strengthen the knee after it has healed from an injury, but it’s important to do these exercises correctly, or there is a risk for injury or worsening of the condition.
Lianne Flynn, PT, MSPT and Director of Physical Therapy at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists in Scottsdale and Phoenix details some of the best exercises for knees:
- Squats are highly recommended in physical therapy. This exercise strengthens hips, muscles around the knee, and is an overall great exercise.
TIP: Make sure that the knees are not coming over the toes or letting the center of gravity come over the toes and knees
- Lunges are also highly recommended in physical therapy for knees. Do multi-directional lunges for the best strength building for functional activities.
TIP: As with squats, make sure that the knee does not extend over the toe.
- Lateral step down exercise trains the knee to control the descent downward.
TIP: Keep hips level during this exercise to make sure the knee is doing the work.
Flynn recommends these exercises especially because they involve the feet and hips. Good foot support and including the hips in the strengthening program are important, as the knee is usually sustaining most of the force between the hip and the foot.
Brian Shafer, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists recommends these exercises for prevention of knee injury but has different recommendations should you have knee pain or an injury.
“Try an over the counter anti-inflammatory, ice, elevate, stay off the leg. Take it easy for three or four weeks, and if after that time you’re still having symptoms, it’s a good time to see a specialist.”
However, many people are hesitant to see an orthopedic surgeon for knee pain or a knee injury. Richard Martin, M.D. is also an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists. He believes that some people will delay treatment or are intimidated to see an orthopedic surgeon for a knee injury or knee pain because they think that all a surgeon can recommend is a surgical solution. “The reality is, in my patient population, only about 25 percent of patients end up with surgery,” Martin says.
For the other 75 percent of patients, both Martin and Shafer agree that physical therapy may be an extremely beneficial treatment option.
“Just about anyone is the right candidate for physical therapy if we’re talking about a knee injury or a post-operative rehabilitation,” Flynn explains. “We actually have even had people come in that would like to build a supplemental program in order to prevent future injury.”
Martin agrees that a conditioning program can have significant benefits. “A lot of the injuries we see are from overuse injuries and muscle imbalance,” he says. “You don’t want to be a ‘weekend warrior.’ There needs to be some conditioning in your downtime.”