Here are several more home remedies and pointers to save your knees.
Don't "run through" knee pain. Many people, especially athletes, believe that it's best to "run through" knee pain -- that if they keep going, the pain will disappear. However, they are likely doing more harm than good. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, and if you push through it, even more damage may occur.
Change surfaces. If you walk or jog on a road, do so on the flattest part -- roads slant downward toward the edges so that water will drain off. If the side of the road is your only option, switch sides of the road frequently.
Hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt can increase the beating the knees take, too. If possible, run or walk on a softer surface, such as a forest pathway, grass, or a running track. Bypass soft, shifting sand, however, which can stress the knees.
Running or walking downhill can cause knee problems, as well. The natural tendency is to "brake" with the knees downhill, which can overstress them. Slow down and, whenever possible, traverse (that means zig-zag) rather than going straight down hills. If you're already having knee problems, you should probably avoid training downhill.
Mix it up. Repetitive movements strengthen some muscles while they allow others to grow week with disuse. That's why cross-training is such a good idea. When you cross-train, you do a variety of physical activities rather than just one or two. Combine running or walking with biking, swimming, dancing, aerobics, weight training, or any other activities you enjoy.
Stretch and strengthen. For strong, flexible knees, try performing these exercises regularly:
- Hamstring stretch. Lie on your back, raise your right leg, and hold the thigh up with your hands. Gently and slowly straighten the knee until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh. Don't bounce. Hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat three to five times on each leg.
- Quadriceps stretch. Stand with your right hand on the back of a chair. With your left hand, reach back, pull your left heel toward your left buttock, and point your left knee to the floor until you feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat using the right hand and right leg. (If you can't reach your ankle, loop a towel around your foot to pull the leg up, or do the stretch lying on your stomach on a bed or the floor.)
- Calf stretch. Stand two to three feet from a wall and lunge your right foot forward. Keep your left leg straight, with your heel on the floor and your toes pointed forward, and keep your right leg slightly bent. Lean into the wall, with both hands on the wall supporting you, until you feel a stretch in the left calf. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat with your left leg bent and your right leg straight.
- Hip-extensor strengthener. This exercise strengthens the muscles in the back of the hip. Lie on your stomach, tighten the muscle at the front of your right thigh, then lift your right leg eight to ten inches off the floor, keeping the knee loosely locked. Hold for five to ten seconds. Do ten repetitions. Repeat with the left leg.
- Hip-abductor strengthener. This exercise strengthens the muscles at the outside of the thigh. Lie on your left side with your head resting on your left arm, tighten the muscle at the front of your right thigh, then lift your right leg eight to ten inches off the floor. Hold for five to ten seconds. Do ten repetitions. Repeat on opposite side.
- Hip-adductor strengthener. This exercise strengthens the muscles on the inside of the thigh. Lie on your left side with your head supported by your left hand, your right knee bent slightly and resting on the floor in front of you; keep your left leg straight. Tighten the muscle at the front of the left thigh, then lift the left leg eight to ten inches off the floor. Hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat ten times. Switch legs, and repeat ten times.
- Quadriceps strengthener. Lie on your back with your right leg straight and your left leg bent at the knee to keep your back straight. Tighten the muscle at the front of your right thigh, and lift your right leg five to ten inches from the floor, keeping the knee loosely locked. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat ten times. Switch legs, and repeat ten times.
R.I.C.E. it. Okay, despite all the good advice, you've overdone it and your knee hurts. Give it R.I.C.E. -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Take the weight off the knee. During the first 24 to 48 hours, use an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) to keep the swelling down. Then wrap the knee (not too tightly) in an elastic bandage to reduce swelling, and keep the knee elevated.
Take an anti-inflammatory. Aspirin or ibuprofen can reduce the pain, inflammation, and swelling (acetaminophen eases pain but does nothing for inflammation). Don't use anti-inflammatories, however, if you have an ulcer, a bleeding condition, or a sensitive stomach. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Avoid heat. Ice prevents fluid buildup, but heat can promote it. For the first 48 to 72 hours after a knee injury, when the knee is probably still somewhat swollen, avoid hot tubs or hot packs.
Massage it. While massage won't affect the bony structures of the knee, it does increase circulation and can loosen tight hamstrings and other tissues that may be pulling on the knee. If you've already developed knee pain, see a massage therapist or physical therapist, not just a friend, for a professional massage.
Don't let knee problems sideline you from doing the things you enjoy. Take care of this joint from the start by following the home remedies outlined in this article.
For more information about knee pain and how to combat it, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- The neck is another delicate part of the body. Learn about Home Remedies for Neck Pain here.
- Like knee pain, physical activity can also cause shin splints. Read about Home Remedies for Shin Splints.
- If walking or running gives you pain, check out Home Remedies for Foot Pain.
- Those with muscle aches should familiarize themselves with Home Remedies for Muscular Pain.
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.