Exercises to prevent knee injury

Knee strapping treatment

Exercise is one of the best ways to help prevent knee injuries. With the help of Hannah Zreik, Bupa physiotherapist team leader, we’ve put together a range of exercises and stretches to help your knees.

Work through the tabs below to find exercises and stretches you can do at home on a daily basis. They aim to improve the health of your knee by preventing stiffness, maintaining flexibility and strengthening the muscles around your knee.

Start slowly and only do as much as you can manage without feeling any pain. These exercises aren't a replacement for expert advice, so please speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before starting.

  • Exercise tips

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Stretching exercises

  • Exercise routines

Keeping active is fun but if you play a sport or do any physical activity, there's a chance you'll get injured at some point. But all's not lost. Try following our eight tips below, to help reduce your chance of injury when exercising or playing sport.

Sport and exercise tips

  • There are hundreds of different models of trainers available and knowing which pair to buy can be daunting. The best trainer is one that matches the shape of your feet and lets you run naturally. If you’re not sure whether you’re wearing the right trainers for you, it's a good idea to take them along to a specialist sports shop and ask for advice. Some shops have experienced advisers who will watch you run and recommend suitable trainers for you. If possible, take an old pair of trainers with you so the adviser can check how they have been worn down.

    If your activity of choice means you’re more likely to get injured, whether that's falling off your bike or getting a knock on the head with a ball, you'll need to wear protective equipment. There's a huge range of products available that can protect almost any part of your body – from helmets and mouthguards to groin protectors and shin pads. But just wearing the protection isn’t enough – you need to make sure that it fits correctly and that you don’t take extra risks because of the added protection.

  • There’s no point putting great effort into exercise if you have a poor technique. Not only will you limit your improvement but it’s also a sure-fire way of ending up injured. Try to learn the right skills when you first take up a new sport so that you get into good practice. If you’re a member of a gym, you could speak to a member of staff who can show you how to use the equipment safely and effectively. This is especially important if you use weights.
  • When you’re exercising it’s important that you listen to your body and know when to stop. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start slowly and gradually increase how much you do. This will help to prevent you from pulling or straining your muscles. And remember, some discomfort is natural but pain is never a good thing. Stop and speak to a fitness professional if you're feeling any pain when exercising.

  • Around 60 per cent of your body is water and it plays a vital role in every bodily function. You can lose a lot of fluid when you exercise – up to a litre an hour – mainly through sweating and breathing.

    If you don’t top these fluids back up, you can get dehydrated. Being dehydrated can affect both your general health and how well you can exercise. You’ll feel tired more quickly and won’t be able to control your temperature as well as usual.

    Water helps fuel your muscles, so drinking before, during and after exercise will boost your energy levels.

  • What you eat before, during and after you exercise can affect how well you perform. The right diet will support your training programme and help you to recover more quickly, and reduce your risk of getting injured.

    We should all aim to eat a healthy balanced diet. But foods that contain carbohydrate are a key energy source for exercise, as it's broken down into glucose, which is your body’s main fuel.

  • Recovery is an essential part of any training programme and it’s important to help maximise performance and reduce your risk of injury.

    After exercising, try spending five to 15 minutes cooling down. This involves light activity, such as walking and stretching the muscles you have used while exercising. Some people think that stretching after exercise reduces muscle soreness the next day but there's little evidence to support this. However, stretching does maintain and improve flexibility, which can help prevent injury.

  • A massage after exercise unquestionably feels good. And regular massage after exercise is thought to help with recovery by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen around the body.  As well as reducing muscle tightness and improving how much you can move your muscles. Sports massage therapists can identify any areas that need attention.

  • Our bodies repair and strengthen when we're at rest. You may be encouraged to exercise every day, especially if you’re training for a sporting event or trying to lose weight. However, it’s important that you have rest days in your weekly training schedule to help your body recover from the exercise. If you really don't want to take a break, try exercising different body parts on consecutive days.

These knee strengthening exercises from Bupa Physiotherapist, Hannah Zreik, will help improve the strength of the muscles that support your knee. The stronger your knee is, the more stable it will be and this will reduce your chances of injury.

Before starting these exercises, check with your physiotherapist to make sure they are suitable for you. And remember the following golden rules.

Start slowly. As you get stronger, gradually increase the number of exercise repetitions until you can complete all of the sets and repetitions. Then start to add weight to an exercise.

Don’t ignore pain. Although exercise can feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t feel any pain. If an exercise hurts, stop and speak to your physiotherapist.

Ask questions. Talk to your physiotherapist if you’re unsure of how many exercises to do or how often to do them or if you’re unsure of the correct technique.

Strengthening exercises

  • Squats are one of the best exercises to strengthen your knees. Squats also help to strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.

    Stand upright with your feet hip width apart and your toes pointing forwards. With your back straight, chest out and shoulders back and down, slowly squat downwards. Aim for your thighs to be parallel to the ground but only go as far as you comfortably can. Straighten your legs to return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions but only do as many as is comfortable.

  • Single-leg squats help to strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. Focusing on one leg at a time can help with any imbalances you have between legs.

    Stand on one foot with your toes facing forward. Use your other leg for gentle balance only. Lower your body by bending your knee. Keep your knee cap in line with your second toe throughout the movement and try not to move it from side-to-side. Only go as low as you can without any pain. Straighten your leg to return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg but only do as many as is comfortable.

  • Stabilisation lunges help to strengthen your quadriceps, as well as your glutes, hamstrings, calves and core muscles. They also help you learn how to control your knee.

    Stand with your legs apart, one forward and one back. Bend your knees to a 90 degree angle with your back knee just above the floor. Keep your front knee stable and in line with your foot and try to keep 80% of your bodyweight on your front foot. Slowly return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg but only do as many as is comfortable.

  • The glute bridge helps to strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. It will aslo help you to develop your core strength and stability.

    Lie on your back with both knees bent at about 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Your head and upper body should remain relaxed throughout the exercise. Slowly lift your bottom up by squeezing your glutes. Try not to arch your back and slowly lower back down. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions but only do as many as is comfortable.

  • Sitting knee extensions help to strengthen your quadriceps and stabilise your knee without you having to move your knee too much.

    Sit on the floor with one knee straight and the other knee at about 90 degrees. Place a rolled up towel under your straight knee. Keeping your toes pointing upwards, clench your quadriceps and slowly lift your foot off the floor while pushing the back of your knee into the towel. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly lower. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg but only do as many as is comfortable.

Stretching the muscles that you’ve strengthened is an important part of preventing injury. As you strengthen the muscles that help support your knee, they can also shorten and tighten. Tight muscles are more prone to injury. These stretches, suggested by Bupa Physiotherapist, Hannah Zreik, will keep your muscles long and flexible.

As with the strengthening exercises, start slowly, don’t ignore pain and speak to your physiotherapist to make sure that the stretches are right for you.

Stretching exercises

  • Tightness in your glutes can alter the position of your leg. This may create an uneven distribution of forces through your knee resulting in knee pain.

    Sit on the floor with one leg out straight. Bend your opposite knee and place your foot over your straight leg. Use your hands to gently push the bent knee up towards your opposite shoulder. You should feel the stretch in your buttock. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

  • If your glutes are tight, your inner thigh muscles may overwork to compensate. This can create a compressive force on your knee joint resulting in pain in your knee.

    Stand with legs shoulder width apart and your feet facing forward. Take a step to the side, making sure that your foot remains facing forward. Bend the knee of the leg that you’ve stepped to the side keeping your other leg straight. Lean away from the straight leg until you feel a stretch in your inner thigh. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

  • If you sit down a lot, you may have tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexors can cause restricted movement in your upper leg so that when you walk you feel pain in your knee.

    Get down into a lunge position with a towel under the shin of your back leg. Keep your back straight and upright and push your hips forward slightly until you feel a stretch at the top of the thigh of the leg that’s behind you. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

  • Your hamstrings are made up of three muscles at the back of your thigh If you have tight hamstrings it can cause pressure between your kneecap and thigh bone resulting in pain in your knee.

    Place one foot slightly in front of the other. With the front leg straight and the back leg slightly bent, lean forwards from your hips. Place your hands on your pelvis, keep your back straight and toes on the floor. You should feel the stretch in the back of your straight leg. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

  • Your quadriceps is made up of four muscles at the front of your thigh. If your quadriceps get tight they can pull your kneecap out of position, causing pain in your knee.

    Stand on one leg holding onto a wall or back of a chair to balance. With your free hand pull the heel of your other leg towards your bottom until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Try not to lean forward as this reduces the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

  • Your calf is made up of two muscles. The gastrocnemius starts just above your knee. If your calf muscles are tight, this can cause your lower leg to rotate more than it should when walking or running. The extra rotation can pull your knee cap out of position which may result in nee pain.

    Stand holding a wall. Place the leg you want to stretch behind you. Lean forwards using your hand to balance and keeping your toes facing forward. Keep your back and stretching leg straight and make sure you keep your heels on the floor. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

  • Your calf is made up of two muscles. The soleus starts just below your knee. If your calf muscles are tight, this can cause your lower leg to rotate more than it should when walking or running. The extra rotation can pull your knee cap out of position which may result in knee pain.

    Stand holding a wall. Place the leg you want to stretch behind you. With your toes facing forwards, lean forwards, bending both knees, until you feel a stretch in your calf. Make sure you keep your heels on the floor. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

Video: Knee strengthening exercise routine

Video: Stretching routine to help prevent knee injuries

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