Your knees are among the strongest joints in your body, they support your body weight while providing stability as you walk, run, bend, jump and lift. Your knees also allow you the mobility to sit and stand. Unfortunately, your knees are also the most commonly injured joints in your body.
The knee joint forms at the intersection of four bones, the femur (your thigh bone), the tibia and fibula (the two bones of your lower leg) and the patella, (your kneecap) which slides over the top of the joint as you bend your knee.
Your knees are supported and stabilized completely by the surrounding ligaments and muscles. The major ligaments are the cruciate ligaments which run across the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of the knee, and the collateral ligaments located on both sides of the knee. If you follow sports, you’ve surely heard of athletes with injuries to their ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament that connects the thigh bone to the lower leg and runs just beneath the patella.
In addition to ligaments, your knees are supported by several large muscle groups. The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of your thigh that straighten your knee when walking or standing. On the back of your leg your hamstrings run behind the knee and attach to the two bones of the lower leg, your tibia and fibula and are responsible for bending your knee. The remaining muscles involved in knee support and movement are the hip abductors (outer thigh) and hip adductors (inner thigh), the calf muscles and the glutes (the muscles of your buttocks).
Why the anatomy lesson? Aside from a direct impact injury, the major cause of knee pain is instability resulting from weak muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. Want to strengthen and stabilize your knees and reduce knee pain while increasing your range of motion? Strengthen the supporting muscle groups.
You may be able to reduce or eliminate your knee pain and improve your strength and mobility through exercise. The following low-impact exercises were selected to improve your strength and restore balance of the muscle groups supporting and stabilizing your knees:
1. Wall Slides
Strengthens the quadriceps and the tissues and ligaments above your knee.
How to do them: Stand 12-18 inches from a wall and lean back until your entire back contacts the wall. Place your hands out to your sides with your palms facing the wall for support. Slowly slide down the wall until your knees reach a 30 degree angle and hold this position for 10-15 seconds, slowly return to the upright position and repeat a minimum of 5-10 times.
Cautions: Do not lower your body to the point that your knees extend beyond your toes, if they do, stop and reposition your feet slightly further from the wall.