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Knee Exercise for Seniors

Full length of active biracial senior man holding racket and playing tennis at tennis court

Knee injuries can happen at any age, but they can be particularly harmful to seniors. Simple knee exercises can help to prevent joint pain, and improve balance, to better your day-to-day life. In this article, we’ll present a knee exercise for seniors workout to keep you moving and feeling great.

Common Causes of Knee Pain Among Seniors

Knee pain is common and can result from sprains, tears, or tendinitis. It may also stem from conditions like arthritis, being overweight, or previous injury or illness. (1)

Knee-strengthening exercises and stretching can help you maintain an active lifestyle, promoting overall health and longevity.

knee anatomy

How Exercise Can Help to Prevent Knee Pain

Why Use Knee Strengthening Exercises?

Loss of muscle tissue (or sarcopenia) and lower activity levels are both common with age, and as a result, we tend to lose much of the strength that kept our knees healthy in our younger years.

Maintaining strength and mobility in the muscles of the upper and lower legs is vital in keeping your knee joint supple and strong. (2)

Why Stretching Is Key to Prevent Knee Injury

Generally, most muscles that flex must also be able to fully extend. Just as knee-strengthening exercises are necessary to prevent injury, we have to maintain flexibility to keep the knees moving safely.

Knee health can be limited when we lack a range of motion in either straight-leg or knees bent positions. Flexibility complements strength and encourages safe movement in the knee to avoid injury.

Let’s dive into some knee-strengthening exercises for seniors to boost your knee health, so you can avoid pesky injuries and joint pain.

Getting Started With Knee Exercises for Seniors

For these exercises, all you’ll need is a sturdy chair or another stable surface to assist you in maintaining balance.

It’s best to warm up beforehand (insert an internal link to warm-up article), which can be as simple as taking a short walk or simply doing some chores in your home or yard.

Always consult your doctor prior to attempting a new exercise routine. If you experience any joint pain, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, please rest and return to these exercises at a later time to prevent further injury.

Start slowly with all knee exercises and remember that not all movements will work for all people.

Now, let’s get started!

Gentle Exercises That Can Be Done from a Seated or Standing Position 

If you’re new to knee-strengthening exercises, these movements will help you to build a strong foundation. Let’s take a look at some seated and standing options.

Knee Extension Straight Leg Raises

  1. Starting position: With an upright body, stand with your sturdy chair at your left side, with your hand resting on the back of the chair

  2. Balancing on your left leg, lift your right leg about 6-8 inches off the floor.

  3. Without leaning back simply bend and straighten your knee joint 8-10 times, holding the straight leg position for a few seconds with each repetition.

  4. Switch legs and repeat, with your right hand on the chair for balance.

Note: straight leg raises can also be done seated on the chair, maintaining an upright upper body, and gently lifting and extending one leg straight at a time.

Seated Hamstring Curls

This knee exercise will work best on a hardwood or linoleum floor, or you can use a paper plate on a carpeted floor.

  1. Starting position: Take a seat and place your right foot flat on a small towel.

  2. Now, while keeping pressure on the towel, simply push the towel forward and back as if you’re trying to scrub the floor. Start slowly, and apply firm pressure. You should feel the hamstring muscles working in the back of your upper leg, especially as you pull back.

  3. Continue this motion until you feel fatigued, then switch to the opposite leg.

Standing Hamstring Curls

  1. Stand upright with both hands resting on the back of your chair.

  2. Carefully lift on foot up and bend your knee as if you’re trying to touch your heel to your buttocks.

  3. Repeat this motion 8-10 times, then switch legs.

Standing Calf Raises

  1. To start: Stand straight upright with your hands on the back of the chair

  2. With legs straight and about shoulder-width distance, lift your heels off the floor.

  3. Slowly lower to the starting position, and set your feet flat. Repeat 8-12 times.

Note: Calf exercises can also be done in a seated position.

Three Exercises to Improve Balance & Coordination

Balance is fundamental to preventing falls, and strong legs and knees can help. Here are three exercises to help improve balance:

Single Leg Balance for Time

  1. With your left hand on the chair, lift your right leg a couple of inches off the ground.

  2. See how long you can keep your foot lifted, then switch to lifting the left leg.

  3. Time yourself to see your improvement. Advance this exercise by placing a folded towel under your feet.

Supported Cross-Step

  1. With one or both hands on the chair, step your left foot across your right foot and tap the floor.

  2. Repeat this movement 10-15 times before switching legs.

Three-Way Reach and Tap

  1. With your left hand on the chair, lift your right foot off the ground

  2. Bend your left knee slightly, then extend your right toe forward and tap the ground

  3. Next, reach out to the right and tap

  4. Finally reach behind you and tap

  5. Repeat in each direction 6-8 times, then switch and repeat on the opposite leg.

Stretching Exercises for Knee Flexibility

Now that we’ve tried some strength and balance exercises, let’s introduce a couple of stretches:

Standing Hamstring Stretch

  1. Standing with feet shoulder width, bend your right leg and extend your left leg straight

  2. Bend at your waist, slowly leaning toward your toes

  3. Actively draw the toes of your extended leg back toward your shin. Once you feel a comfortable stretch, hold for about 30 seconds, then to repeat on the other leg.

Seated Figure Four Stretch

  1. Take a seat on your chair and cross your right ankle over your left knee.

  2. With a straight spine, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the outer hip.

  3. Please note that if you feel any pain in your knee, you can cross your knees or ankles for a slightly gentler stretch.

Standing Stretch For Your Calf Muscles

  1. With feet shoulder width, and place both hands flat against the wall

  2. Take a big step back with your right foot, and drive your heel toward the ground

  3. Hold for about 30 seconds, then switch legs.

Exercise Equipment for Seniors with Bad Knees

Many knee-strengthening exercises can be done with body weight, but if you’re interested in adding some equipment to your exercise plan, consider adding ankle weights to your workouts. Most ankle weights are inexpensive and offer a small amount of resistance to make these exercises more challenging.

Our Recommendation:

Don’t start with too much weight, which is a common mistake. In the clinic we recommend

Elastic resistance bands are useful for various exercises to strengthen the hips and knees. They have been found to improve balance, strength, and coordination in patients with joint and knee pain. (2) You can find bands, loops, and other equipment (as well as instructional videos) at physioed.com.

If you find yourself struggling with pain in this or any exercise program, talk to your doctor. They may recommend a knee brace or some other orthopedic intervention. You can find our article about knee osteoarthritis at this link (insert internal link to knee osteoarthritis article).

Wrap-Up

Keeping your knees healthy means finding the best exercises to keep you feeling good. With equal parts strength, flexibility and balance, we hope these exercises leave you feeling energized for all of your favorite activities.

References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/knee-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20350849

  2. Jadelis, K., Miller, M. E., Ettinger Jr, W. H., & Messier, S. P. (2001). Strength, balance, and the modifying effects of obesity and knee pain: results from the Observational Arthritis Study in Seniors (OASIS). Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(7), 884-891. https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2001.49178.x

  3. Sundstrup, E., Jakobsen, M. D., Andersen, C. H., Bandholm, T., Thorborg, K., Zebis, M. K., & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Evaluation of elastic bands for lower extremity resistance training in adults with and without musculo‐skeletal pain. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(5), e353-e359. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sms.12187

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