How to keep your knees strong and pain-free while playing sports

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How to keep your knees strong and pain-free while playing sports

Knee pain is a prevalent health issue, causing 18 million people to make visits to their doctors every year in the US alone. This statistic excludes the majority who prefer home treatments to remedy knee pain from sprains, strains and other issues.   

High-impact sports athletes, as are sports buffs, trail runners and weekend warriors, are particularly vulnerable to knee pain and knee injuries due to trauma and overuse conditions. But, really, just about anyone can experience knee pain at some point in their life. 

If you want to keep your knees strong and pain-free, allow us to walk you through some useful knee-strengthening tips. First, let us help you understand what causes knee pain and knee weakness. 

What causes weak knees? 

Our body is a synchronous machine made up of intricate connections of nerves, muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels and other structures. When one or two parts go out of sync, the rest make up for these difficulties for as long as they can. Unfortunately, when this happens too often, the parts simply wear out or give in. 

Our knees are no different. Various muscles, bones, nerves and tendons course through our upper and lower legs and connect to our knees. They become more vulnerable to injuries and damage due to wear and tear if they’re weak or tight.

Major causes of weak knees 

Weak knees can cause instability, making everyday activities seem like an uphill battle. They’re usually triggered by these conditions:

  • Trauma or injuries (i.e, torn cartilage or ligament)
  • Lack of physical activity or sedentary lifestyle
  • Medical condition (arthritis, nerve damage, etc.)
  • Overuse (strains and sprains)

Secondary causes of weak knees

Just how do muscle problems contribute to knee pain and injuries? Below are a few reasons: 

Weak quadriceps 

Quadriceps muscle, or “quads” for short, is a group of muscles that runs along the front thigh and connects to the knee just below the knee cap. It is responsible for straightening the knee and absorbing the shock from weight-bearing activities such as walking, kicking a ball or running. 

A frail quadriceps muscle can cause heightened pressure on the knee joint, making simple activities such as standing up and sitting down or climbing the stairs a struggle. Weak quads can likewise impact your balance and gait. 

Feeble glutes

“Gluteus maximus” is not the name of an ancient Roman general, but rather the scientific term for the most dense and massive muscle in our body. Informally called the “butt muscles”, its key role is supporting our body weight and maintaining upper body posture. 

The glutes make rotating the hips and moving the leg inward or outward possible, and they’re likewise responsible for resisting these movements. Frail glutes cause instability and erratic hip and knee rotations, as well as improper foot landing.

Tight calf muscles

Calf muscles, or the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, attach behind the knee. The calf muscles also run behind the shin bone, just above the ankles. They’re responsible for pulling the heel up and distributing the impact of carrying our whole body’s weight when we walk, run or stand. 

Hence, calf muscle weakness can result in the knees bearing more weight than it should, resulting in knee pains from tendon strain, overuse and cramps. Tight calves can be extremely uncomfortable and causes difficulty walking. 

How do I strengthen my knees?

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, having strong and flexible muscles are keys to keeping knees healthy and avoiding further injuries. Stronger muscles minimize the impact of stress and shock on your knee, while flexible muscles aid your joints to move more easily. 

Injury, surgery and arthritis-induced knee pain can benefit from gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. Stretching out the tissue where the muscle joins the tendon can reduce the pain and strengthen muscles that support your knee joint. 

Apart from easing pain, these activities also improve your flexibility and range of motion. 

Keeping your knee still while nursing mild to moderate knee pain does not alleviate your condition – it may even worsen it. As with other parts of the body, not moving your knee can cause it to tighten and become rigid, making it harder to move. 

Swimming, stationary cycling, walking and performing yoga are few of the activities that help manage knee pain and prevent further knee problems.  

These knee strengthening exercises can help reinforce the muscles around your knee joint, providing much-needed support to alleviate pain and avoid knee injury.  

5 knee-strengthening exercises

Perform the following exercises for muscle conditioning and strengthening:  

Leg raises 

This strengthens and tones your glutes, your core muscles and creates a firmer backside.   

Hamstring curls

Hamstring muscles function together to bend your knee and move your thigh back, allowing you to walk, run and jump.

Step exercises

Step exercises stretch and strengthen your knee and makes daily activities such as climbing the stairs easier. 

Wall squats

Squats come with a host of benefits for your various muscle groups as they strengthen your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

Heel and calf raises

Fortifying your calf muscle will highly benefit your hamstrings and provide your knee with greater support and stability.

6 stretches that benefit your knees

Muscle stretches can also help enhance flexibility, and these are few of the stretches you can do before engaging in any type of sports play:

Quadricep stretch

Tight quads inflict pressure on your knee cap if they’re tight. Perform this stretch to loosen quads and relieve pain. 

Hip flexor stretch

When your hips are tight, your quads compensate for the impact and pressure, putting more strain on the knees. This stretch is helpful in opening up the hips, suggests Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS.

Hamstring stretch

Hamstrings are tendons that attach the large muscles at the back of the thigh to the bone. The hamstring muscles are the muscles that pull on these tendons. Together, they support your hips and knees, so keeping them flexible helps avoid strains, among other knee issues. 

Calf stretches

That pain and pressure you feel at the back of your knee may be caused by tight calves. A problematic calf may likewise trigger plantar fasciitis, so keeping your calves in good condition also helps avoid further injuries.

Figure-four stretches

Glute tightness can cause a slew of symptoms, including back and leg pains, as well as knee pain, especially when your quads start absorbing some of the impact from your stiff glutes. 

Side lunges

Unstable hips and pelvis may be due to tense hip muscle adductors, the muscles which stabilize your hips. Constant pressure from tight muscles can impact your knees in the long run. Side lunges flex hip adductors, improving flexibility and helping open up your hips as well. 

How to perform knee strengthening exercises and stretches safely

In enhancing muscle strength, experts remind newbies to avoid doing too much, too soon. Start slowly and gradually increase repetitions as you feel comfortable. 

The term, “no pain, no gain” is an outdated mantra that causes more harm than good. Pain should not accompany exercise, nor should it confirm that you’re doing it right. It is normal to feel a bit of discomfort while doing specific exercises but if it starts to hurt, modify your position or stop what you’re doing. 

What causes knee pain?

Knee pain occurs when any part of the joint  knee cap, ligaments, tendons and cartilage  that makes up our knee is injured, inflamed or irritated. 

Trauma, overuse and an underlying medical condition, as well as excess weight and  labor-intensive physical and sports activities, can aggravate or cause knee pain. Weak and stiff muscles also contribute to knee discomfort.

What are the most common injuries that cause knee pain?

High-impact sports athletes such as footballers, soccer players, runners, skiers and cyclists are at a high risk of developing knee pain caused by excessive stress. This can later lead to overuse conditions such as: 

  • ACL injuries
  • Fractures
  • Meniscal tears
  • Knee dislocations
  • Iliotibial band syndrome
  • Patellar/knee tendinitis
  • Prepatellar bursitis

What are the signs and symptoms of knee pain?

Knee pain and discomfort may be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the affected area and the underlying cause. Knee discomfort is typically accompanied by visible signs of joint inflammation such as redness and swelling. Some may have difficulties performing weight-bearing activities and have limited range of motion.   

Knee ice pack wraps are highly effective in treating knee pain and discomfort. When used warm, they promote blood flow and enhance muscle flexibility for better exercise or sports performance.  

Does wearing a knee brace help while playing sports?

Knee braces are a form of support that you wear when your knees hurt or are injured. Some athletes wear it to prevent knee injuries while playing sports. Knee braces come in various sizes, colors and designs, and are made from different materials such as plastic, foam, metal and elastic fabrics, among others.  

Here are some different types of knees braces:

Unloader braces 

These ease pain in patients with knee arthritis by lifting the pressure from the affected knee towards a healthier area. 

Functional or rehabilitative braces 

Functional or rehabilitative braces are worn by individuals who have had previous injury. They secure the knee and help minimize movement to prevent further injuries. 

Prophylactic braces 

These are often used by athletes to protect themselves from knee injuries.

Knee sleeves 

Knee sleeves also offer some support for your knees, providing compression to alleviate pain and swelling around the knee joint. 

This knee ice pack wrap can be used to support the knee once the removable gel inserts are removed. Its high quality nylon, double-stitched neoprene and cotton allow for professional-grade compression and support to alleviate knee pain. 

How about you? How do you keep your knees strong and healthy? I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at If you have questions about knee ice packs or any of our cool products, comment below or let’s keep in touch.

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