Besides the storybook fantasies of being ‘weak in the knees’ for someone, there’s not too much good that can come of weak knees in our everyday life. Weak knees can cause:
- General pain around the knee joint
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome
- Infection of the knee joint
- Issues with your hip flexors
- Lack of mobility
- Strains and sprains
- Torn cartilage or ligaments
Your knee is the largest joint in the body, and it is used often in daily life, walking, running, climbing, and jumping. Because of its frequent use, it can be prone to injury and pain. Knee pain is a common complaint seen by doctors. However, stretching and strengthening exercises can help prevent injury and pain. Always seek medical advice before you begin an at-home knee exercise routine to gain proper guidance on technique and form and to avoid further injury.
Stretches to Strengthen Knee Muscles
Always remember to start with some gentle warm-up exercises to get the blood flowing to your muscles and help ease any joint stiffness before you get started on any stretches and exercises. You can start with side-to-side (lateral) or forward and back leg swings (pendulum-style movements), one leg at a time
Standing Quad Stretch
- Steady yourself on one leg, with a hand against an unmoving surface (like a wall).
- Bend your right leg at the knee and bring your heel towards your buttocks.
- Keep your abdominal muscles tight, back straight, and relax your shoulders.
- With your opposite hand, gently pull your right ankle in close to your hamstring and buttocks.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then lower your right foot back to the floor and repeat on the left leg. You will feel a stretch at the top of your quad muscles.
- Perform this stretch exercise at least four times on each side.
Basic Hamstring Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Keeping your legs straight, and backs of knees on the ground, reach out your arms forward towards your feet, bending at the waist while keeping your knees straight.
- Hold the position for at least 20 seconds and try to keep stretching towards your feet.
- You should feel a gentle pull in the back of your thighs.
- Release the stretch and rise back upright.
- Repeat the stretch three times.
You don’t need a physical therapist to complete these gentle strengthening exercises, but you should consult with a healthcare professional before undertaking any exercises to prevent or avoid knee injury.
Straight Leg Raises
This simple exercise will strengthen your quadricep muscles and avoid pressure on your knee.
- Lie on your back on the floor.
- Bend your right knee up so that your right foot is flat on the ground.
- Keep your left leg straight on the ground; toe pointed to the ceiling.
- Keeping your left leg straight, raise it to the height of your bent knee. Feel a stretch.
- Repeat 10 times for each side.
Prone Straight Leg Raises
This exercise is like the reverse of the Straight Leg Raises, as you’ll lay on your stomach. You might find it beneficial to perform the Straight Leg Raises first, and then roll over to perform the Prone Leg Raises.
- Lie flat on your stomach with legs straight.
- Tighten the muscles in your buttocks and the hamstring down the left leg.
- While keeping your right leg on the floor, lift the left leg to the ceiling. Make sure the left leg remains straight, not bent.
- Hold your left leg up for three to five seconds.
- Slowly lower the leg to the floor, then raise and repeat 10 times on each side.
- Swap legs.
Exercises to Build Knee Muscles
Standing on One Foot Balance Exercise
- Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on lightly for balance.
- Lift one foot (right foot) off the ground and for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
- Repeat the exercise with the left foot.
Squats are a great knee strengthening exercise as your muscles get stronger. They help to build your lower body strength (leg muscles, thigh muscles) and build muscles around the knee. However, do not overdo them if they cause you discomfort. You should wait until knee injuries heal completely before adding squats to your program.
- For your starting position, stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your knees shoulder-width apart, slowly bend at the knee to lower your upper body towards the ground. Keep your back straight.
- Hold for three seconds.
- Slowly straighten your legs so that your upper body rises back into a straight standing position.
- Repeat five to 10 times, depending on your knee condition.
- If you want to work your calf muscles at the same time, you can rise onto your toes when you come to the upright standing position.
Floor Lateral Leg Raises
These low-impact raises strengthen your gluteal muscles and are easy on your knees. Add ankle weights to make them harder.
- Lie on your side.
- Rest your arm under your head for support.
- With legs stacked on top of one another, lift the top leg to the ceiling, keeping the foot pointed forward. Lift one leg at a time.
- Hold the top leg at a 45-degree angle for two seconds and then slowly lower.
- Repeat five times and then switch sides.
- You should feel your hamstring muscle working.
Further Knee Strengthening Exercises
If you have health conditions like knee osteoarthritis, back pain, muscle cramps when exercising, or general muscle soreness, consult your physician for health information first before you begin a new exercise routine.
Besides undertaking physical therapy to strengthen your knees, water aerobics can be a gentle, low-strain way to move your body, strengthen your knees, and also remain pain-free. For example, you can perform exercises like standing hamstring curls in the water without too much pressure or strain on your knees. Low impact walking and cycling also help to strengthen the muscles around your knee.
Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician in Jacksonville, FL and founder of SportyDoctor.com.