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Ester Marsh column: Do you have knee pain?

If you are dealing with knee pain, and resting and elevating your knee is not helping, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Many times, your first step is to work with a physical therapist. They can show you exercises specific to your condition.

When people who have been diagnosed with some sort of knee pain ask me what they can do, I tell them to listen to their body. It will tell you when something doesn’t feel right. Don’t do exercises that increase the pain.

Many knee issues come from an imbalance or too much tightness in the muscles and tendons. Increasing muscle strength and flexibility in the legs goes a long way to help improve knee health. Of course, if you are overweight, losing weight would be very beneficial for your knees. When you lose the weight, your joints feel great relief as will other body parts and organs.

Make sure you wear proper shoes for the activity you are doing. Shoes that don’t fit well can give you all kinds of knee problems. Ralph Baker Shoes is specialized in fitting people with the right kind of shoes. I know many who have gotten relief from knee pain by wearing the proper shoes or inserts.

It helps to cross train — mix up your exercises with water exercise, cardio, strength and flexibility activities.

Good balance is imperative throughout the body. As with the back, it is also very important to have good posture, a strong core and strong upper body. You can do the exercises below at home or at the gym to help strengthen your knees:

• Straight leg raise — on your back with one knee bent and other is straight (but not locked), lift the straight leg up until it reaches the knee of the bended leg and lower it again without touching the floor. You can do this 12-15 times and it works on the quads (upper front leg muscles) and hip flexors (upper front leg).

• Side leg raise — on your side, support your head on your arm (back needs to be nice and straight). The top leg moves up pointing the toe towards the ground. Go up as high as you comfortably can without bringing the toe up. Come down without touching the bottom leg and do it again — 12-15 times each side. This exercise focuses on IT band (iliotibial band) and abductors (outer hip muscles).

• ”Clam” — lie on your side with both knees bent, feet staying together. Now open up your top leg, top foot “pivots” over bottom foot. Go as high as you can comfortably can without turning your body — 12-15 times each side. This exercise helps  IT band and abductors.

• Wall sit — pretty much as it states — sit with your back against the wall with hands next to your body. Lower your body so that you have about 90 degrees in the hips and legs, like you would sitting on a chair. If 90 degrees is too challenging at first, start at about 135 degrees (buttocks are higher than the knees). Start with 15 seconds and work your way up to a minute or longer. If you have a fitball (big round exercise ball), you can lean against the fitball and go into that same position, hold and roll back up and you can do this 10-12 times. These exercises target most of your leg and buttocks muscles.

• Calf raises — strong ankles will help with good knee alignment and balance. Hold onto a chair or wall, lift your heels of the ground and return to the floor gently. Do this about 10-12 times. You can also do one-leg calf raises, where the other leg is bent with the knees next to each other. Do the same with one leg and switch to the other leg.

• Bridge — lie on your back with your knees bent, arms next to your body palms up. Lift your buttocks and core as high as comfortable off the ground, squeeze your buttocks at the top and gently release to come back down. Keep pressure on the shoulders not on your head and don’t push with your hands. Before you lie back down, go up again. Do this 12-15 times, and holding it longer at the top will make it harder. This exercise works the buttocks, hamstrings and core.

Do these exercises at least two to three times a week. Next week, I will go into flexibility for the lower body. So besides doing these exercises, enjoy the dry weather for as long as it lasts!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.

 

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