Any time you injure your body you’ll have to deal with some form of physical setback, which means more time spent sitting on the couch and less time on your feet, at the gym, or on your bike. A knee injury is no exception. Common knee injuries include muscle or ligament tears, fractures, sprains, or dislocations. Some injuries may heal on their own while others will require surgery. Most occur due to a lack of strength in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, which are three muscles that can easily be strengthened with some simple bodyweight exercises.
It may be tempting to push your knees in an effort to regain strength and flexibility, but you’ll need to consult a doctor before starting an exercise routine and even with a doctor’s approval, healing an injured knee will take time and a little extra love. Take it slow and follow these steps to rebuild your knee after an injury.
1. Warm up with low impact cardio
Cardio is a great way to rebuild the muscles around your knee and get your heart pumping. However, if you’re a gym rat, skip the treadmill and opt for the stationary bike instead. If you typically go on a run on your favorite trail or track, switch to a less impactful walk around your neighborhood. Running is too impactful on an injured knee and even the elliptical can cause stress if not used properly. To play it safe, stick to biking and walking as you start your journey towards healing.
2. Build strength
By building up the muscles that support your knee, you can actually reduce stress on your knee joint. To do this, you’ll want to focus on your quadriceps and hamstrings, which will help your knee absorb shock and take away strain from the knee. Perform these exercises after warming up the legs with a 5 to 10 minute walk or cycle.
- Straight leg lifts — Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other leg straight on the floor. Tighten the thigh muscles on your straight leg and lift the leg until it is about a foot off the floor. Hold for 3-5 seconds before releasing down and switching sides. Repeat this exercise in sets.
- Single leg dip — Put a chair on either side of your body and rest your hands on the chairs. Lift one leg slightly in front of you, shifting your weight to the other leg. Slowly lower your body down pushing your weight into the heel of your supporting leg as you bend your knee. Hold for 3-5 seconds before releasing and switching sides. Repeat in sets.
- Hamstring curls — Hold onto the back of one chair and shift your weight to one leg. Lift the other foot and bring the heel towards your buttocks. Hold for 3-5 seconds before releasing and switching sides. Repeat this exercise in sets.
- Wall squat — Stand with your back and hips against a wall. Keeping your back to the wall step your feet out about two feet from the wall, hip width apart. Slowly slide down the wall until you’re in a sitting position on an imaginary chair. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds before releasing and repeating.
- Step ups — Find a 6-inch stool or platform to use for this strengthening exercise. Step one foot on the platform letting your other foot hang loosely off the platform. Hold for 3-5 seconds before releasing your hanging foot to the floor followed by the second foot. Switch sides and repeat in sets.
3. Stretch it out
After you’ve spent time strengthening your muscles, it is vial that you stretch them out. While strengthening exercises builds muscle to support your knee, it will also leave your muscles tight which can make them more prone to injury. You’ll want to gently stretch and loosen the muscles up after you exercise to reduce muscle soreness and keep the muscles long and flexible.
- Knee extension — While sitting in a chair rest your foot on another chair so the knee is bent and raised to feel comfortable. Slowly push the raised knee toward the floor using only the leg muscles until the leg is straight (if you’re able). Hold this for 5-10 seconds and release. Switch sides and repeat in sets.
- Knee flexion — Sit in a chair and loop a towel under one foot, leaving that foot resting on the floor. Slowly pull on both ends of the towel to lift your foot 4-5 inches off the floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds before releasing and repeating in sets on both legs. Bend your knee as much as needed.
- Hamstring stretch — Stand up and put one foot in front of you with your toes up. Keep your hands on the small of your back or use a chair for balance. Bend the opposite knee until you feel the hamstrings stretch. The upper body can come forward at the hip, but keep your lower back straight. Hold for 5-10 seconds before releasing. Repeat in sets on both legs.