Focus on Fitness: Strengthening the legs can help with knee pain

Most likely you or someone you know suffers from knee pain. Injuries and long-term wear and tear are common causes. In some cases surgery can provide relief, but maintaining muscle strength in the legs is often very helpful in managing the pain.


People with knee pain are less likely to exercise, which compounds the problem. Not exercising due to knee pain results in weight gain and poorer muscle tone. This in turn results in more knee pain. Master Rolfer Andrew Mattson explained to me that maintaining strength in the leg muscles improves stability, which in turn improves function of the knee joint. This reduces bone on bone contact, which reduces pain. In addition, the balance of strength between muscle groups is improved, which is also helpful.

It is advisable to consult a physician regarding knee pain. They may recommend surgery or physical therapy. A physical therapist can assist you in an exercise program to reduce knee pain while not further damaging the joint.

Below are some basic exercises that will reduce knee pain for many people. Do not do these exercises if they cause pain. Consult a physician and/or physical therapist for exercises that will be appropriate for you.

For all the following exercises use the exercise tool I shared in a previous article, see the link below:

Adjust the resistance for the exercises as needed. You may increase resistance by using a stronger band or moving further back from the band’s attachment point. Bands may be purchased on line or at a full service pharmacy. Make sure the connection point will not move. A table or couch is a good connection point, but a light chair is not. There should be enough resistance to reach overload at 15-30 repetitions. Do these exercises two to three days a week. You may do these exercises without resistance also in which case they may be done everyday. If you use a resistance band check the band for wear and tear often. Refer to the pictures and descriptions to help you with proper form.

Thigh: While lying on your back, right knee bent with foot flat on the floor, extend the left leg out and lift it above the level of your right knee. Hold for two to three seconds then bring leg down to just above the floor (repeat to overload). Repeat on right side.

Groin: While lying on your right side bend your left leg and slide your knee up. Lift your right leg off the floor and hold for two to three

seconds (repeat to overload). Repeat on left side.

Outside of Leg: While lying on your right side lift your left leg up about two feet and hold for two to three seconds (repeat to overload). Repeat on right side.

Hamstring: (Starting position is the same as with thigh exercise) While lying on your back, right knee bent with foot flat on the floor, extend the left leg out and raise it to the level of your right knee and hold. Now push down on your right foot and raise your hips and lower back off the floor, hold for two to three seconds (repeat to overload). Repeat on left side.

To help you manage your knee pain you should avoid activities that cause pain. As we age it is especially important to switch from high impact activities to low impact ones. Biking is an excellent choice for a person with knee problems because it tones the muscles that help support the knee joint reducing pain. If biking causes knee pain raise the seat and/or consult a bike specialist for advice regarding a proper fitting bike. Walking and swimming are also excellent choices for aerobic exercise that is low impact.

Please remember that these exercises are not appropriate for everyone. If they cause pain discontinue and consult a physician. Also, it takes six to eight weeks to make significant gains in fitness so be patient.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at


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