Working Out With a Knee Injury: Here’s What You Need to Know

working out with a knee injury

Recovering from a knee injury doesn’t mean you have to stop working out. Instead, switch to exercises that are safe and aid in healing the joint.

Whether you’ve injured your knee or suffer from arthritis, you should continue to stay active. Why? While it may seem counterintuitive, one recent study found that patients with osteoarthritis may see a reduction in pain when they exercise. Further, when we work out, blood and nutrients rush to the injured joint and muscles, thereby helping in the healing process.

The good news is, you don’t need to give up your workouts while your knee heals — but you may have to refocus your exercise routine. When exercising with a painful knee, be sure to consult with your orthopedist or physical therapist on which activities are the most beneficial. And if your doctor tells you to rest the knee for a while, do so. 

Exercising When Your Knee Hurts

As you recover, concentrate on low-impact aerobic activities that are less stressful on the knees while also promoting cardiovascular health. That rules out running and jumping. Instead, try these four exercises while your knee heals.

  • Biking. If you’ve suffered an ACL tear (a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee) or you experience patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee characterized by pain under the kneecap), cycling strengthens the muscles around the knee. You can get a good workout on a regular or stationary bike, but if you do hop on a regular bicycle, try to avoid going up hills that could stress the knee.
  • Swimming. Like biking, swimming is easy on the joints and provides a great calorie-burning workout. Just make sure you can kick without discomfort. You don’t necessarily have to swim strokes — water aerobics or simply walking or jogging in water are other low-impact options.
  • Elliptical Training. Working out on an elliptical machine supports your knees and minimizes the risk of injury. It’s also preferable to running on a treadmill — although walking on a treadmill is fine as long you can stride without limping. If you’re able, setting the elliptical machine on an incline strengthens the sometimes overlooked muscles along the back of the leg.
  • Work Your Upper Body. One way to avoid re-injuring the joint or aggravating your knee injury is to concentrate on upper-body exercises. Bicep curls, lifting dumbbells with your arms, and pumping an arm bike all boost upper-body strength. If you think your knee is strong enough for strength training, you can try straight-leg raises while seated, calf raises, lunges, and squats. 

Injured or not, start any exercise routine with warm-up stretches. For knee injuries in particular, you should focus on stretching the IT band, a thick thread of fibrous tissue running from the outside of the hip to just below the knee. Because the IT band stabilizes the joint and allows the knee to rotate, it’s important to keep it flexible. You can do that by placing a foam roller under the outside of the thigh and then moving your body along the IT band to loosen up the muscles.

Anytime you exercise you’re bound to feel some soreness. If you feel a sharp pain in the knee while working out, however, that’s a signal to stop or switch activities.

Get in Touch With a Knee Specialist

Staying active is important not only for healing, but your overall well-being. If you’re suffering from a knee injury, come visit one of the orthopedic doctors or physical therapists at New York Bone & Joint Specialists. We can recommend exercises that promote healing as your knee mends. Contact us today for an appointment.

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