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Weight Loss and Knee Pain

The following question was answered by Cara Regas, MA, ATC, ACE-certified personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10.

I have a lot of knee pain and I know it is due in part to being overweight. Is there something I can do to strengthen my knees now while I am losing weight, as opposed to waiting until I lose the weight?
First of all, realize that in order to diminish your knee pain you are going to have to make cardiovascular training mandatory. Walking, biking, swimming, and rowing are all great ways to keep your heart rate up while participating in minimal weight bearing activities.  Weight bearing exercises, such as jogging and jumping, will place more stress on your joints which in turn will increase your knee pain. Cardiovascular training, in combination with healthy eating habits, is a great way to improve your health and obtain your weight loss goals.

In addition to cardiovascular training 3-5 days per week, there are exercises you can do specific to strengthening the muscles surrounding your knee. Your knee comprised of 4 ligaments (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL), 2 menisci, and many muscles. Strengthening those muscles and ligaments will help maintain knee stability. Although the exercises vary depending upon the type of pain you are experiencing, here are a few general exercises to get you started.

Straight Leg Raises
1) Quadriceps: Sit on the floor with your back against a wall. With your toes pointed towards you, raise your straight leg off of the ground about 6 inches.

2) Abductors: Lie on your side and tilt your top leg slightly behind your bottom leg with your toes facing the floor. With your hips tilted forward, raise your straight leg about 6 inches off the floor and return. You should feel a “burn” in your hips and gluteals.

3) Adductors: Lie on the floor in the same position as the abductor exercise. This time, bend your top leg and rest it at a 90-degree angle so your bottom leg is free to move. With your foot in a dorsiflexed position, lift your bottom leg 4 inches off the ground and return back down. This exercise works your inner thighs.

Wall Squats
Place a physioball at the small of your back in between you and a wall. With feet shoulder width apart, squat down into a seated position until thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees do not protrude out over your toes. Drive your legs back up to the start position and repeat.

Hamstring Curls
Lie on your stomach. Bend your knee to at 90-degree angle and bring your heel to your rear, engaging the back of your thighs (hamstrings). To increase intensity, lie on your back and place your feet upon a physioball. Lift your hips into the air while keeping the ball in one position and return down to the ground. The next progression is to lift your hips up, curl the ball in towards your hips, straighten your legs, and lower your hips to the ground again.

Calf Raises
Stand with feet shoulder width apart next to a wall or railing. Lift your heels off of the ground as high as possible. Slowly lower heels back to the ground and repeat. Following your exercises, you should always stretch the major muscles in your legs and ice your knee for 15-20 minutes to decrease the swelling and pain.
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