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Jeruba's avatar

What kind of exercise will strengthen the knees without stressing them?

Asked by Jeruba (45936points) November 24th, 2012

I had surgery to my right knee for chronic dislocation more than 30 years ago. Lately it’s been wobbling under me at unexpected moments, as if it’s getting ready to go out. I know the feeling, and it’s a nasty one.

From time to time the left one (never operated) does go out, and I end up wearing a knee brace for months before somehow it’s ok again.

I have a feeling that if it goes out now, it’ll be bad. I’d like to prevent it.

What kind of exercise could I do that would result in strengthening both knees without putting me at risk in the process?

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17 Answers

geeky_mama's avatar

My SIL had knee surgery (torn ACL) and has been in physical therapy to strengthen her knees. While in recovery she found that:
– swimming
elliptical machine
..and long walks were her best bets for cardiovascular work outs – and doing weight-training exercises were best for her knee. (The PT showed her simple exercises—and even some not so simple ones! Oddly enough, one involved her jumping on her recovering “bad” leg on a mini-trampoline)
Can you get your doctor to get you some Physical Therapy? That would be best / safest. If not, or if you’re looking for a less expensive way consider going to your local Y.
Our Y provides a free individual consultation with a qualified personal trainer. You could tell them what your goal is (to strengthen your knee and it’s supporting structures) and they could show you some safe exercises.

Unbroken's avatar

@geekymama very good ideas.

Water is low impact. I think the key idea would be to focus on specific movements. I assume you had pt and they gave you specfic exercises to start with, these are usually isolation exercises that focus on strengthening the immediate area around the problem area so that you can focus on healing and eventually strengthening the area zero.

Frequently when experiencing chronic pain in a targeted area the muscles around the area try to overcompensate and pain radiates outwards.

So reversing this cycle is key. Go back to the orginal exercises if only as a warm up and then gradually focus on bigger movements.

The trampoline exercises that I believe geeky mama was referring to was rebounding. The difference being a much tighter top surace and occasionally a bar attachment to support yourself, I would recommend one in your case.

This exercise is incredible in its simplicity and ease but can be demanding. Start off very slow. It will seem fun and easy enough just to push a bit farther then recommended. Don’t. You will be surprised at how much you feel it the next day.

Also stay away from inflammatory foods. They cause unnecessary swelling, which will result in additional friciton.

If you want to do massages use something healing like comfrey, peppermint, lavender or calendula.

marinelife's avatar

I would see if your doctor would prescribe a regimen of physical therapy. By the way, I have bad knees too, and I know exactly what you mean about the wobble. Take care.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t have a specific exercise suggestion, as I don’t know specific exercises to strengthen knees. I read the two reponses above and I wanted to mention that a friend of mine who has knee trouble says water exercises like water aerobics bothers her knees more because the resistance of the water sometimes pushes the opposite direction of her intent. This is part of what makes water exercises so good for stregthening muscles, especially core stability, but I guess maybe it depends what exactly is the problem in the joint for whether it might aggravate the joint. The reason it is good for joints is no impact, but the water can sort of pull or drag depending on the exercise. I certainly think you can try some exercises and see what hurts and what doesn’t and find your way to what you feel safe doing. An appointment or two with a physical therapist might be good as well.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Cycling as it’s non weightbearing.

flo's avatar

I’m not sure though if it applies to your circumstance exactly, but swimming is always recommended just in general.

Bellatrix's avatar

My husband was told to cycle to strengthen his knees @Jeruba.

Unbroken's avatar

Side note braces should only be worn for limited amounts of time, like at work if it’s physical and you don’t have time to consider knee placement.

Braces especially when worn on one limb cause imbalance and could potentially cause hip pain/damage because you are off balance.

Also weakens the muscles around it so while it causes immediate relief it is in fact counter productive long term.

Coloma's avatar

If you have a hot tub or pool water exercises are great for low impact workouts for bad joints.
You could do underwater knee bends and all manner of flexibility type and bicycle type routines to get maximum range of motion.
I am addicted to my hot tub and have an entire stretching and exercise routine I perform under the moonlight. Sometimes even at sunrise if I need to really lubricate the old bod in a hurry. haha

The massage jets are a nice follow up and really make a huge impact on sore and strained muscles. I swear, everyone over 45 needs a hot tub. They are so theraputic and relaxing.

gailcalled's avatar

I am in the throes of knee discomfort so can speak to my issues. I saw my PCP, had x-rays, was diagnosed with arthritis (a complicated condition) and sent to a Physical Therapist.

She designed tailor-made exercises for me and also told me what not to do. She also said that the exercises were designed to strengthen the quadriceps, the abductors, and the adductors and to stretch the hamstrings.

We added a few 5 lb. weights, pelvic tilts, abdominals and posture stuff. She did caution that the exercises would in no way compensate for the bone spurs and thinning of the cartilage.

The ortho surgeon whom I saw next gave me small wedges to put in my shoes to correct the slightlly bow-legged gait that I had developed, so subtle that I had not noticed. Then he injected SImvisc (gel from the comb of a rooster) into each knee.

So I have bought myself 6 months.

I do use a grabber to pick things up off the floor since I can no longer squat. I keep one on each floor and can even nab a piece of dried cat food.

This is a long-winded way of saying to find specifically what is suitable for your knees. If you ever needed a custom workup, now is the time.

rooeytoo's avatar

Swimming and cycling are both suggested for strengthening without stressing. An orthopedic guy also told me that when I was sitting, just repeatedly raise my legs alternately or together so that they are parallel to the floor (or as close as you can manage) and then lower. Do this as many times as you can. As your knees strengthen you can add ankle weights or use elastic bands.

DaphneT's avatar

As @gailcalled said, the exercises you do should be designed to strengthen the muscles that work the knee joint, as itself it has no muscle. This is very important to understand as this means that the entire leg structure has to be worked to achieve the stability you are looking for. And not just the one leg, as @rosehips mentions maintaining a balance between both legs is critical.

The other critical point is that stretching the muscles, proper warm-ups and cool-downs will all make a difference in how strong your knees feel after exercise. It will also take about 4–8 weeks of a routine to really feel that you’ve gotten the stability and strength back and then it’s maintenance from there on.

disquisitive's avatar

I have had both of my knees replaced. And I’m quite young. I had a condition called patella alta and was told as a teen that I could be in a wheelchair at the age of 50. That was before joint replacements though. But what the doctor did tell me at the time was that the best exercise for the knees is sitting or reclining and simply tightening the knees (you’ll know if you are doing it right when you see your kneecaps go up and down). I was instructed to do this 300 times per day every day. I did it for a long time but as life got busier I got lazy. Anyway, that very same exercise is one that is done in PT after knee replacement for strengtthening. When I was first told to do it they said it would keep the knee strong as well as keep deposits from forming under my high knee caps. Try it; it certainly cannot hurt. Well, I’m no doctor but it doesn’t seem like it could hurt anything.

RandomGirl's avatar

@disquisitive: How common is patella alta? It sounds like what I’ve had problems with for the last 2 years. (I’m 16.) I wonder….
(I shouldn’t have googled it, though, because I started reading about what surgery for this issue would include. I nearly fainted! Glad I got it out of my head to go into nursing!

disquisitive's avatar

@RandomGirl Sorry, but I’ve been away a long time. I imagine you have found your answers already. Medicine was a lot different when I was a teen. So, I doubt the prognosis for you would be the same as it was for me way back in the dark ages. Anyway, there’s plenty about patella alta online—look at and other reliables sites.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for all responses. I’m trying to keep up with walking, and it does seem to help. The trouble has backed off for now.

johnroger's avatar

I think you should do some effective stretching exercises to improve the functionality of your knee.

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