If you have any problems with your knees as a result of sports injuries, there are stretches you can do for the surrounding muscles that will help to relieve pain and prevent further injury. Similar to the way back exercises, or shoulder exercises help to strengthen your back muscles and shoulders, these leg stretches and exercises will help your legs and knees to become stronger. If you stretch regularly, you’ll build strength in your muscles which helps to support the joints they surround. Before you stretch your legs, it’s a good idea to warm up by having a short walk.
1. Hamstring Stretches
To do this stretch, lie down flat on your back. Loop a bed sheet, or a towel around your right foot. Use the sheet to pull the leg up and stretch it. Hold for 20 seconds, and then lower the leg. Repeat this process twice. Switch legs so your left leg is in the air, and do this stretch three times.
2. Calf Stretch
To do this calf stretch, hold onto a chair for balance. Bend your right leg in front of you. Step back with your left leg, slowly straightening it behind you. Press your left heel towards the floor. You should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Do the stretch twice, and then switch legs, bending your left leg in front of you and keeping your right leg stretched behind you. If you want to feel a deeper stretch, bend the front leg more. But don’t bend too far! It’s important that the knee never goes over the front foot.
3. Straight Leg Raise
Lie on the floor and support your upper body with your elbows. Bend your left knee with your foot on the floor. Keep the right leg straight, and point your toes up. Slowly use your thigh muscles and not your lower back, to raise your right leg. Keep your leg in the air for five seconds and then slowly lower your leg to the ground, keeping the thigh muscles tight. Relax and then repeat this process ten times. Have a rest, and then repeat the stretches on your other leg.
4. Quad Set
Is the straight leg raise too tough for you, or can you feel any pain in your lower back? If so, try some quad sets instead – with these you don’t raise your leg, so you don’t put any strain on the lower back or the hips. Start this stretch by lying on the floor. Keep both legs on ground, with the feet relaxed. Flex the left foot up and hold the leg tense for five second and then relax. Do two sets of 10 and switch to the other leg.
5. Seated Hip March
To do this stretch, sit up straight in a chair. Kick your left foot back slightly but keep your toes on the floor. Lift your right foot off the floor and keep the knee bent. Hold the right leg in the air five seconds. Slowly lower your foot to the ground, keeping your leg bent at a 90 degree angle. Repeat this 10 times. Rest, do another set of 10, and then switch legs. If raising your leg on its own is too hard, you can use your hands to help.
6. Pillow Squeeze
This move helps strengthen the inside of your legs, to give better support to your knee. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Place a pillow between the knees and squeeze them together so that you squash the pillow. Hold this for five seconds and then relax. Repeat this 10 times. Rest, and then do another set of 10.
If this is too hard, you can also do this exercise while seated.
7. Heel Raise
Stand tall and hold the back of a chair for support. Lift your heels off the ground and rise up on the toes of both feet. Hold this position for five seconds. Slowly lower both heels to ground, and repeat this 10 times. Rest before attempting another set of 10. A way to modify this stretch, if it’s too difficult, is to do the same exercise while sitting in a chair.
8. Side Leg Raise
Stand up straight, and hold the back of a chair for balance. Place your weight on your left leg and lift the right leg out to the side. Keep the right leg straight and outer leg muscles tensed. It’s important to keep your back straight and not slouch while you do this, so that your legs are supported. Lower the right leg and relax, then repeat the stretch 10 times. Rest, and then attempt another 10. Repeat the process with your left leg. Don’t worry if you can’t lift your leg very high at first, you should aim to increase the height of your leg over time, as your muscles become stronger and stretch out more. After a few workouts and some practice at this stretch, you’ll have more control over your muscles and be able to raise the leg a lot higher.
9. Sit to Stand
Place two pillows on a chair and sit on top of them, keeping your back straight. Place your feet flat on the floor. Use your leg muscles to slowly and smoothly stand up tall and then slowly lower again to sit. Just like the calf stretch, don’t let your knees go over your toes. Try this with your arms crossed or loose at your sides. You can also use a chair with arm rests for support when you first do this stretch.
10. One Leg Balance
First, shift your body weight to one leg without locking your knee straight. Slowly raise the other foot off the ground, balancing on your standing leg. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower. Do this twice and then switch legs. Steady yourself on a chair, if needed. Your goal is to do this hands-free. If this stretch is too easy for you, try to balance longer than 20 seconds without wobbling, or even try it with your eyes closed for a challenge.
11. Step Ups
This is a great way to build strength in your calves and quads. Face a stable step with both feet on the ground. Step up with your left foot and then follow with your right foot.
Stand tall on the step with both feet flat, then climb down off the step. Use your right foot to come off the step first, then the left. Repeat this process 10 times. Rest and then do another set of 10. Now do two more sets, starting with your right leg. If you have trouble getting up on to the step, use a rail or wall to help you, or grab onto something to help you balance when you’re up. If you have a lot of trouble getting up on to the step for all the repetitions, start with a smaller step and then slowly work your way up to a higher one.
Even if you have stiff or sore knees, walking is one of the best exercises for knee arthritis. Start at a slow pace and try to keep at it. Walking can reduce joint pain, strengthen your leg muscles and improve their flexibility. It’s also good for your heart. When you walk, look forward; keep your back straight and your arms relaxed. If you’re not regularly active at the moment, always consult your doctor before you start a new exercise program.
Other exercises that are easy on the knees include biking, swimming and water aerobics. Any exercise that you can do in the water takes weight and strain off painful joints. If you have any favourite activities that are starting to cause your body stress or pain, speak to a doctor or a sports physiotherapist for ideas to modify the activity to stop causing pain.
How Much Exercise Should I Do If I Have a Knee Injury?
Aim for 30 minutes a day and try to start small. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re not at the same level you were at before you got injured, it will take time to completely heal. If the pain doesn’t bother you, try to do more next time. Over time you’ll build your leg muscles to support your knee and increase flexibility.
By Ashton Lucas
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