Updated: May 9, 2020
While exercise and movement are designed to energize you and make you feel great, aches and pains can occur from time to time. And, knees are among the most commonly affected areas of the body. No need for alarm, just follow the Stop, Drop, & Roll method to help shake it off and get back to work.
If pain comes on during exercise, stop to assess. Shake it out, give your quadriceps a little stretch, and resume the exercise slowly and with control. If the pain persists, stop the movement you’re doing to cause the pain and move to something different.
For example, leave the exercises focused on the lower body (e.g. squats and lunges) and move to upper body (push-ups, pull-ups) or core focused (planks) exercises for the rest of the workout. Or, if you’re on the treadmill, switch to an upper body ergometer or even a recumbent bike might work.
Evaluate the pain in the moment and once you’re done with the workout. If the pain was sharp, is persistent, or you find you can’t put weight on your leg, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately and receive a professional opinion.
If your knees are achy or you are coming back from knee pain, you’ll need to ease back into weight-bearing activities for your lower body or choose alternative activities to keep moving.
For your strength training, weighted squats or lunges (e.g. with machines, barbells or other weights), jump squats or lunges, or box jumps should be avoided until you are pain free. Instead, focus on body weight exercises; focus on performing exercises slowly and avoid fully straightening your knee at the top. Add in range of motion as you can tolerate.
If squats and lunges are still not agreeing with you, try plie squats, variations on the deadlift, hip extensions, bridging, abduction or adduction (standing or lying) and monster walks. This could be a great opportunity to work on the stabilizer muscles in the lower body to help you come back better than ever!
With cardio, you may to avoid high(er) impact exercise such as running. Instead try the stepper or stepmill, stationary or recumbent bikes, Elliptical or the ARC trainer. If taking classes, avoid quick directional changes and opt for lower impact options.
While you would want to consult a doctor or physical therapist to diagnose your knee issue and find its root cause, many times, knee pain can be traced back to overuse, strength discrepancies (front side of leg versus back side of the body), or tightness in the lower body. As always, avoid overtraining and take time to stretch after your workouts.
Foam Rolling is a great way to offset overuse injuries and help to ward off aches and pains. Rolling your IT band, adductor, glutes (figure 4), quadriceps, shin & calf both before and after your workouts will go a long way in preserving the integrity of your knees. Oh, and don’t forget about the bottom of your foot which is literally your foundation! Grab a tennis ball and massage the bottom of your foot before starting a leg workout.