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If your knees ache when you squat, run, jump or even get out of bed, you’re not alone. Knee pain is one of the most common joint ailments among Americans, with knee osteoarthritis accounting for up to 80 percent of total osteoarthritis cases.

It’s common to let knee pain keep you from exercising — or even completing regular daily activities. Luckily, there are a few ways you can take action against knee pain. As with most things, prevention is key. Dr. Thomas Calton of Utah Orthopedics offers the following tips for protecting your knees during exercise.

Take care of the foundation

Many knee injuries result from weak muscles in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower leg. Weak abdominal and pelvic muscles can also lead to knee pain or injury. When your legs and core are strong, those muscles absorb some of the stress placed on your knees, helping your knees remain stable. Additionally, strong leg muscles help keep the knee properly aligned during movement.

Pick knee-friendly activities

If you already struggle with knee pain or a pre-existing injury, high-impact activities such as running and jumping rope may not be the best choice for you. Instead, try walking, cycling, or swimming, all of which help build aerobic fitness while strengthening your leg muscles.

Stair-climbing and hiking are also knee-friendly activities if your steps aren’t too large and you stay on moderate terrain.

If you lift weights, use proper form. Overloading or misaligning your core, hips, or legs while weightlifting can add unnecessary pressure to your knees. Additionally, avoid exercises that involve fully locking the knee, such as leg extensions, and any activities that require quick changes in direction.

Brace yourself

If you have or have had a knee injury or recurring pain, wearing a knee brace during exercise can prevent further damage.

Even if you don’t have a pre-existing injury or pain, knee sleeves or wraps can be helpful. The purpose of a knee sleeve is to protect the knee from damage or injury. Knee sleeves compress the knee and encourage blood flow through the knee, which can reduce pain during exercise and expedite the recovery process.

Warm-up properly

Many people are guilty of jumping straight into a tough workout without warming up — a recipe for knee damage. Without a proper warmup, you’re at risk for all sorts of injuries. A good warmup gradually increases your body temperature and blood flow to your muscles, which helps to loosen joints and prepare muscles for exercise.

Increase effort gradually

Increasing the intensity of your exercise too quickly is a surefire way to get injured, knees or otherwise. A helpful rule of thumb is a 10% per week rule. That is, you shouldn’t increase the time, distance, intensity, or weight load of your workouts more than 10 percent each week. Gradual increases effort to ensure your knee joints don’t get overloaded.

Get new shoes

Worn shoes are a common culprit behind knee pain. When your shoes are worn out, any misalignments are exacerbated and it becomes more difficult to keep your knees stable during exercise.

Usually, one new pair of shoes per year is sufficient. If you exercise often or with great intensity, you might benefit from having several pairs of your favorite shoes on hand and alternating the days you wear them. This keeps your shoes in quality condition for longer.

Recover actively

Fatigued muscles can’t stabilize the knee properly, so sufficient rest is a critical component of keeping your knees healthy during exercise. If you struggle with a pre-existing condition such as overpronation (flat feet) or arthritis, adequate rest is even more important.

Two of the best active recovery techniques include foam rolling and stretching. After your workouts, try foam rolling and stretching your quads, calves, and ankles. By maintaining the proper range of motion throughout your legs, you reduce your risk of a knee injury.

The bottom line

The best way to keep your knees healthy and avoid cumulative trauma is to maintain an optimal range of motion in the joints and develop muscle strength in the legs and core. Exercise and active recovery are crucial aspects of maintaining whole-body health. Other efforts, such as regular chiropractic checkups and adjustments, may also help.

If you’d like to learn more about exercising with knee pain or how to protect your knees during exercise, give Utah Orthopedics a call at (801) 758-0206 or request a consultation using the online booking tool.

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