So how do you know if you’re at risk? Factors like inactivity, carrying too much bodyweight, poor posture, improperly treated injuries, and insufficient nourishment can all contribute to knee pain, Rippe says. Luckily, by taking better care of your knees throughout your life, starting as early as your thirties, you can strengthen joints and potentially save yourself from years of daily pain and discomfort.
What You Can Do Now
One of the best things you can do for knee health is simply maintaining an active lifestyle. “Your joints thrive on movement,” Rippe says. “Always try to remember that some activity is better than no activity.” Rippe recommends low-impact activities, like swimming, brisk walking, or cycling, and considering taking health supplements that provide glucosamine and chondroitin to strengthen and lubricate knees.
On the flip side, too much movement can be hard on your joints. So if you’re one of those people who just can’t quit their HIIT habit or long-distance runs, there are some simple moves and stretches you can try that will help alleviate pain.
Since multiple muscles overlap the knee joint—including your calf, thigh, hamstrings, quadriceps, gastrocnemius, and soleus—and work together to flex, extend, and stabilize the knee, the exact source of pain isn’t always obvious. “This means you want to think about stretching all the tissues around the knees,” says Lauren Williams, a certified personal trainer and head coach at New York City’s athletic-based training studio Tone House.
Here, six of the best (and simplest) moves that target all those muscle groups. Try to do these stretches after every workout to keep your knees healthy now and in the future.
1. Wall Calf Stretch
Calf muscles often get neglected during our stretching efforts. However, for those who run, do high-impact workouts, or spend a lot of time on their feet, calf stretches are very necessary, Williams says. Calves can get extremely tight from impact and need to be stretched to relieve any pain that might travel up the knee.
Find a wall you can lean against. Facing the wall, flex your right foot and position your heel right where the floor meets the vertical surface. Your toes should be elevated, while your heel remains on the floor. Keeping your heel on the ground and your leg as straight as possible, lean toward your front leg, holding the stretch at its deepest point. Lean in for five seconds at a time before releasing, working to deepen the stretch. Repeat the same stretch with your left leg. Aim for 10 to 15 reps on each leg—or more, if you’re still experiencing tightness.
2. Calf Smash With Lacrosse Ball
This move allows you to work out tension in both your calf and your hamstring, Williams says.
Sit on the ground and pull your right foot close to your butt so your knee is bent. Wedge a lacrosse ball (or yoga/massage ball) below your right knee, sandwiching it between your calf and hamstring. Create a “compression force” by pulling your shin toward you, then rotate your foot in alternating circular movements to help create space in your knee joint. Continue until you feel tightness in these areas being relieved, then switch legs.
3. Half-Kneel Hip and Quad Stretch
This stretch not only feels amazing, but it also works double-duty for your hip and quad muscles, Williams explains.
Kneel on one knee (feel free to put down a towel or mat) with your other foot planted flat on the ground in front of you. Make close to a 90-degree angle with both of your legs. Lean forward toward your front leg, stretching the front of your hip downward. Next, grab the ankle of your leg planted on the ground, and pull it toward your rear for a deep hamstring and hip stretch down the front leg, all the way to your knee. Move in and out of this stretch for 10 to 15 reps or more, depending on your level of tightness.
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