In most cases, when you’re dealing with knee joint pain, it’s actually an issue in the muscles around the knees that’s causing them to hurt. “There are many muscular attachments around the hips that help control the motion of the knee joint and your leg,” says Jaclyn Fulop, PT, founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group. “Knee pain is often due to muscle imbalances from tightness and weakness, and sedentary behavior for long periods of time can cause knee pain due to these imbalances.”
For example, she explains that when your gluteus medius (aka one of your butt muscles) is weakened, it allows your thighs to rotate and pull inwards, which causes excessive strain around your knee joint. And tightness in your vastus lateralis (a part of your quadriceps that allows for strength and stability) can lead tracking issues at the knee because it pulls your kneecap in a wonky direction and can damage the cartilage underneath. It should go without saying that any knee pain should be checked out by a doctor, who can determine if there is something more serious going on.
In order to avoid sedentary behavior-induced knee pain, your best bet is to keep your muscles strong in the first place. “You can help to correct muscle imbalances with strengthening of the gluteus medius and the vastus medialis, and stretching the lateral musculature,” says Fulop. Stretching and strengthening the hips can also help, as it helps to prevent movement in the kneecap and protect the cartilage in your knee. These four PT-approved knee joint exercises strengthen your lower body and will keep those knees feeling pain free no matter how many hours you’re spending in a chair.
4 moves to help with sedentary behavior-induced knee pain
1. Standing it band stretch
This move stretches the IT band and tensor fasciae latae, a muscle that runs across the hip and outside of the leg. Cross the knee you want to stretch behind your other leg, and lean toward the uninjured side. Stretch with your arms over your head, then bring your arms down to touch the ankle on the inside of the bow. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 10 times. Perform three sets a day.
2. VMO straight leg raise
Your VMO—or vastus medialis oblique—muscles are located on the inside of your thigh, just above your knee, and maintaining their strength is important for keeping your knee safe from pain. Lie on your back with one leg stretched out straight and the other knee bent, which takes the tension off the lower back as you work the straight leg. Turn your foot outwards about 20 degrees, then lift the foot up until your thighs are parallel. Hold for three seconds and slowly lower down, keeping the foot turned outwards. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side, and perform twice daily.
3. Clams shells
Strengthen your glutes with some good, old-fashioned clam shells. Lie on your side with your legs stacked, and your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Keep your feet together as you draw the top knee toward the sky, opening your legs. Keep your hips tilted slightly forward, and be sure not to let your pelvis roll back during the lifting movement. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side, and perform twice daily.
4. VL stretch
This move helps to loosen your hip flexor and isolates your vastus lateralis, aka the muscle located on the outer part of your thigh. Start by kneeling on your right knee, and put your left foot on the floor with your left knee at a 90-degree angle. Grasp your right foot with your hand behind you and apply a medial rotation to the hip by pushing the foot away from the midline of the body, driving your hip forward. Keep your back straight and lean your torso forward. To gently increase the stretch, tilt the pelvis posteriorly, keep your chest upright, and lean into your hip. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat two to five times with each leg, trying to increase your stretch each time.
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