When you’ve got knee pain, it’s kind of like an annoying younger sibling, tagging along in everything that you do. Whether you’re running, spinning, squatting, or contorting yourself into some sort of a Warrior pose, it’s just kind of…. there. And while many of us just kind of learn to deal with it (respecting our body’s limits, of course), we shouldn’t have to—and putting together a stretch-heavy “recovery toolkit” for knee pain can help make that happen.
“A lot of knee injuries, or even chronic knee pain, can be avoided if you figure out where your imbalances are,” says Samantha Pell, founder of Samantha Pell Pilates. So for example, if you’ve got super tight hamstrings and not-so-strong quads, you’ll start to feel it in your knees. Same if you’re working your quads too hard and not giving those hammies their airtime they deserve in your strength training sessions. The fix? Hack your recovery regimen so that your muscles are getting the equal love they deserve (and those pesky pains will be less likely to happen).
As with most recovery hacks, this one starts with a foam roller. While you never want to roll your knee (or any other bone in your body for that matter), rolling the muscles around it can help relieve some of the tension that’s causing you pain. “When you roll slowly and correctly, it can really break up any of those knots and lactic acid buildup in your muscles,” says Pell. “And it helps relieve any of that pressure that may be pulling up on that tendon that runs over your kneecap.” First, start with a few minutes on the treadmill or elliptical to warm up your muscles (because it’s never a good idea to stretch cold muscles), then stretch your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors for 35 seconds each. Foam roll each area, then repeat the process for a second time. Here, three stretches that will help you shake that “annoying little sibling” from your workouts once and for all.
- For your hamstrings: Loop a towel around the ball of your foot, and straighten your leg out in front of you. Hold for at least 35 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
- For your quads: Standing on one leg, grab the top of your foot and pull it up to your glute. Hold for at least 35 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
- For your hip flexors: Lie on your side with your knees at 90 degrees, and loop a strap or towel under your bottom leg (holding it with the same hand). Place your other hand on top of the ankle on your left foot, and keep your knees bent. Contract your hamstrings and glutes, moving your upper leg back as far as you can. Hold for at least 35 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
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