By the time most of us get into our 40s, 50s or 60s, we start to have achey, creaky, painful joints. The pains can result from injuries we've sustained, health conditions like arthritis, or just poor movement patterns and muscle instability that we've developed over the years. The knees in particular are a common source of pain, because they get used with every step we take.
If you have knee pain, an important first step is to strengthen the muscles that support the knees, especially the quadriceps on the front of the thigh. But here's the rub: two of the best exercises for strengthening the quads are squats and lunges, both of which are really impossible if you have knee pain. So instead of squats and lunges, here are three easy exercises to help you strengthen your quadriceps without straining your knees.
1. Quadriceps Set: Sitting on the floor or on a bed with your legs out straight in front of you, squeeze the muscles on the top of your thigh to pull your kneecap toward you. Hold the squeeze at the top, and release. Repeat six to eight times on each leg. Build up to three sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
2. Leg Extension over a Roller: Sitting on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you, place a foam roller, rolled towel or 8-10" diameter ball under one knee. Contract your quadriceps muscles to lift your foot and straighten your leg. Then relax your thigh and lower your leg. Start with one set of 6-8 repetitions, and build up to three sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
3. Seated Straight Leg Raise: Sit on the front edge of a sturdy chair with upright posture and hips and shoulders squared to the front. Extend one leg out so the knee is straight but not locked and the heel touches the floor while the toes point upward. Using the contraction of your quadriceps muscle, lift your straight leg so the foot comes five or six inches off the floor. Squeeze at the top of the lift, then continue to hold the contraction in the muscle as you lower the foot back to the floor. Start with one set of 6-8 repetitions, then build to three sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
If you keep up with these three easy exercises for knee pain, you should notice a big difference in just a few weeks. You may even be able to manage stairs or shallow squats and lunges again.
(video credit: Prime of Life Fitness)