It is pretty understandable that your musculo-skeletal elements undergo degeneration and destruction as we age. Needless to say that the loss of functional connective tissue can greatly limit mobility, functional capacity and physical independence. For this purpose, it is highly recommended that you keep your joints stable, steady, intact and healthy. It is no surprise how frequently we take our knees for granted until finally picking up a box becomes a big deal and causes pain.
Knee joints are the most used (and somewhat abused) joints of the body. You will only realized the real value of your knees after suffering an injury or damage to your primary joints. Therefore, it is recommended to strengthen your knee joints as prevention measures.
What are some primary supports of the knee joint?
Knee joint is a compound joint that is formed by 4 bones (tibia, fibula, patella and femur). Regardless of the complexity of the anatomical structure of this joint, it is well- supported by a number of ligaments, tendons and muscles. The primary supports of knee joint are:
- The iliotibial band assists in stabilizing the knees during any active physical functions. However, it may get inflamed upon overuse or a result of application of blunt force, consequently resulting in ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome).
- The tearing of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is usually reported in the poorly coordinated jumping and running like activities.
- The meniscus, mainly acts as the primary shock-absorbers of your knee joints. It has been observed that the any sudden decelerating, pivoting or twisting activity across your knee joint can lead to tearing or inflammation of this joint.
In addition, certain muscles present within the leg play a vital role in supporting the knees. These include the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. The stronger these muscles, the better will be the functionality of your knee joint.
11 Helpful Tips For Strengthening Your Knee Joints
Tip # 1: Stretching of ITB
As discussed previously, the ITB is perhaps the strongest support of your highly mobile knee joint. Warming and stretching of ITB prior to any strenuous activity is quite helpful in preventing the risk of injuries.
Some tips to optimize the strength and stability of ITB are:
- ITB Stretch
Stretch the arms all the way above your head while standing with the left foot crossing over the right foot. Lean the upper body towards the left side, as far it is possible, preventing the knees from bending. Repeat the similar steps again but this time with the right foot crossed over the left one and the upper body leaning towards the right side.
- ITB foam-roller
Seat yourself on the floor and stretch your legs before you. With one leg crossed over the other, pull in the knee towards the chest and hold it for a while. Follow the similar steps with the other leg.
- Standing ITB stretch
With both feet together, stand straight 6-12 inches away from the wall. Hold both the arms on either side as if you are forming a ‘T’ with the right hand, reach down as much as possible without involving bending of knees.
- ITB stretch via lift
Seat yourself on a chair while your legs placed on the floor. Raise the right foot few inches higher from the ground level without bending the leg. Hold your leg right there for a few seconds. Then bring it back to rest. Follow the similar steps with the left leg and repeat the whole thing 5-10 times. Gradually increase the holding time from few seconds to 2-3 minutes. Walk energetically before beginning complicated exercises. This will assist the ITB to loosen up a bit.
Tip # 2: Workout the leg muscles
It is imperative to keep in mind that in order to maintain healthy knee joints, it is highly recommended to have strong leg and thigh muscles. Unfortunately, effective muscle re-modelling of leg and thigh muscles is difficult to achieve via traditional gym training. That is why it is essential to incorporate these special workouts to stabilize and strengthen your lower limb musculature.
To work out the quadriceps, try lunges. Stand straight up with hands on the hips. Taking a large step, place the left foot in the front and lower the body downwards until the left leg bends at an angle of 90 degree. The back knee will continue to lower down until it almost touches the floor. Follow these steps a number of times before switching to the other position.
Step-ups will help strengthening the hamstrings. Try to step up on a raised surface with just one foot. Follow the same steps with the other foot.
For strong glutes, perform squats. Stand straight up and squat to the floor by keeping the back straight and bending the knee. This arduous exercise can also be performed easily by standing before a chair, sitting on it and then getting up.
Tip # 3: Practice proper jumping
Proper jumping assists in making the knees stronger. To study your angles and form, stand in front of a mirror and jump a rope. If you land on straight knees then your joints will be subjected to a lot of pressure which may even result in injury. Instead try to land on a half squat position with bended knees.
Tip # 4: Indulge in recreational activities
Often times, people mistake fitness and physical activity to just a few traditional exercises performed in the gym or fitness centers. In reality, it is much more healthy if you improve your overall lifestyle to dynamic from a more sedentary approach. Some examples of recreational activities that can be easily adopted in a daily regimen are:
- Yoga may assist in toning the muscles of the legs. Numerous yoga positions include warming and stretching of the knees.
- Swimming assists in strengthening the knee and leg provide them with flexibility.
Tip # 5: Consuming foods which do not cause inflammation
Inflammation is responsible for making the joints painful and weak, therefore adding anti-inflammatory foods to your routine diet can help in optimizing the strength and stability of your knee joints. Based on the recommendations presented by Carlos K.B. Ferrari (5) in his latest report, it can be safely assumed that consumption of ‘functional foods’ that are high in nutritional value and low in hazardous chemicals can effectively reduce the pace of age related degeneration in a number of organs and tissues.
Carlos also added that incorporating special nutritional elements can boost overall immunity and functional capacity of your body. Foods that you should be consumed because of their anti-inflammatory characteristics include veggies and fruits, avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds and fish.
Tip # 6: Add healthy supplements to your diet
Are you aware that our tissues and connective tissue are exposed to persistent stress and strain in the form of environmental and physical forces? Knees and other metabolically active tissues and components are especially at high risk of exposure to free radicals and reactive oxygen species that can damage the integrity of these elements.
Therefore, healthcare providers recommend adding special supplements to your daily regimen besides consuming a healthy diet. These include:
- Sufficient vitamin E: It is believed that vitamin E has the ability to block the enzymes that are responsible for breaking the cartilage present within the joints. Some excellent and rich sources of vitamin E include: kiwi, mango, peanuts, broccoli and spinach. In addition, you can also consume over-the-counter formulations of Vitamin E as well.
- Calcium supplementation: Stronger bones are the necessary for stronger knees therefore consume enough calcium, to keep the bones intact and healthy. Some rich calcium sources include leafy greens and almonds, other sources are goat milk, cheese, yogurt and cow milk. In addition, if you are young metabolically or physically active male or female, you should consider supplementation. In addition, other indications of calcium supplementation are lactation (or breastfeeding), pregnancy, advancing age, pre-existing bone and gut disorders (like gut resection, malabsorption syndromes, osteoporosis etc.).
- Vitamin D: Likewise, in the light of reasons discussed above, you should also consider vitamin D supplementation to enhance longevity and strength.
According to a new study published in the scientific journal International Orthopaedics (6), scientists suggested that mild to moderate chronic deficiency of Vitamin D is strongly associated with accelerated rate of premature osteoarthritis in the knee joint. These assumptions were made in Vitamin D deficient individuals who were younger than 60 year of age.
Tip # 7: Avoid painful activities
While performing certain activities, if you experience a lot of pain in the knee then this is a red flag for weak knees that are not strong enough for the activity. In such condition, perform low impact exercises for a time being to rest your knees. After focusing few months on the flexibility and strength of the leg muscle, you will find yourself ready to indulge in those activities with ease, which previously used to cause pain.
Tip # 8: Periodic medical examination
Most cases of osteoarthritis or osteoporosis remains undiscovered until advanced illness. This is mainly because minimal changes in the bone mineral density is usually silent but manageable. However, unfortunately if no intervention is taken, the risk of severe bone damage increases.
Although maintaining normal physical activity and consuming healthy diet may prevent the disastrous changes in the bone mineral density, yet joint integrity and strength is dependent on a number of other factors. Therefore, it is highly recommended to keep up with periodic physical examination at intervals to rule out any derangement or pathology in early stages.
Tip # 9: Intake of lots of water
Make it your habit to drink lots of water every day. You must have heard that the recommended daily intake of water should be 8 to 10 glasses. Yet most caregivers believe that you should follow your thirst. An ideal assumption is that drinking almost half the weight of your body in ounces is usually helpful in maintaining optimal health of knee joint and other major joints of the body. Water will assist in cushioning the joints of the knees and ultimately will assist in alleviating the pain.
Tip # 10: Supported sneakers
Knee joint holds a central position in the leg. Any irregularity at the level of hip joint or ankle joint can directly compromise the integrity of knee joint. A lot of the individuals are least concerned about the benefits of using proper footwear. Make a habit of wearing high quality sneakers or footwear that offer maximum support to your arches and ankle joint. Likewise, avoid wearing old worn-out shoes that are incapable of supporting your musculoskeletal tissues.
Tip # 11: Consider massage therapy and alternative medicine
In case of any physical injury, it is recommended to avoid popping pain-killers or pills that are known to damage cartilage (7) and other parts of joint capsule. Instead, if you suffer any injury; make sure to take optimal rest. You can also benefit from alternative care modalities like:
- Massage therapy
- Soft tissue manipulation
Speak to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing pain, discomfort, swelling or stiffness in your knee joint. Otherwise, you can also seek advice on how to strengthen your knee joints to avoid injuries or joint damages.
1. Sled, E. A., Khoja, L., Deluzio, K. J., Olney, S. J., & Culham, E. G. (2010). Effect of a home program of hip abductor exercises on knee joint loading, strength, function, and pain in people with knee osteoarthritis: a clinical trial. Physical Therapy, 90(6), 895-904.
2. Ebnezar, J., Nagarathna, R., Yogitha, B., & Nagendra, H. R. (2012). Effects of an integrated approach of hatha yoga therapy on functional disability, pain, and flexibility in osteoarthritis of the knee joint: a randomized controlled study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(5), 463-472.
3. Keays, S. L., Sayers, M., Mellifont, D. B., & Richardson, C. (2013). Tibial displacement and rotation during seated knee extension and wall squatting: A comparative study of tibiofemoral kinematics between chronic unilateral anterior cruciate ligament deficient and healthy knees. The Knee, 20(5), 346-353.
4. Bell, D. R., Oates, D. C., Clark, M. A., & Padua, D. A. (2013). Two-and 3-dimensional knee valgus are reduced after an exercise intervention in young adults with demonstrable valgus during squatting. Journal of athletic training, 48(4), 442-449.
5. Ferrari, C. K. (2007). Functional foods and physical activities in health promotion of aging people. Maturitas, 58(4), 327-339.
6. Heidari, B., Heidari, P., & Hajian-Tilaki, K. (2011). Association between serum vitamin D deficiency and knee osteoarthritis. International orthopaedics, 35(11), 1627-1631.
7. Pountos, I., Giannoudis, P. V., Jones, E., English, A., Churchman, S., Field, S., … & McGonagle, D. (2011). NSAIDS inhibit in vitro MSC chondrogenesis but not osteogenesis: implications for mechanism of bone formation inhibition in man. Journal of cellular and molecular medicine, 15(3), 525-534.