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Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

min read

By Eric Leckie, PT

Do you notice that your knees ache more and more with age? Or maybe you’ve noticed that you don’t feel as stable through your legs as you did in your younger years. If this is the case, you’re likely in need of a knee strengthening program. The cause behind these aches and pains are most likely due to a lack of strength in the muscles that support these joints.

Our knee joints are made up of bones, cartilage, and ligaments. The surrounding muscle is what provides the structure to support our knee and allow it to function properly. If you’re not exercising and strengthening this surrounding muscle, it’ll result in a breakdown of cartilage and further wear and tear of your bones. The good news is that this can be reversed by starting a knee strengthening program.

To start, visit a doctor or physiotherapist for a full assessment of your knees to make sure there aren’t any underlying issues. Next, start with a basic strengthening and stretching program to work on the surrounding muscles. Here are my top 10 exercises that can help seniors strengthen their knees. I suggest picking a few of these exercises and trying them out for yourself!

Glute Bridges

Glute bridges are a great way to strengthen the front and back of your thighs, and your buttocks. All of these muscles help to support you knee, so making them stronger will help decrease your pain and allow you to feel steadier on your feet.

When performing glute bridges, aim to squeeze your muscles tight as you raise your hips off the floor and then relax as you slowly lower back down to the floor.

Hamstring Stretches

As we get older, our muscles tend to get tighter and tighter which can restrict our movement, especially in the knees. One of the main culprits to this problem are the hamstring muscles. The best way to increase the flexibility in the hamstrings is by stretching them multiple times per day.

When performing a stretch, you want to feel a gentle pull in the muscles you’re targeting. If you’re feeling pain, you’re pushing too hard into the stretch.

Squats

Squats have gotten a bad rep when it comes to our knees. Many people think they are bad for our knees, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! The key with squats is to complete them in your pain-free range with the proper form. You never want to work into pain. Start slowly and lower to the point before you feel the pain, then rise back up.

When rising back up, make sure to get a good squeeze through the front of your thigh and your buttocks to ensure you’re working the correct muscles.

Calf Stretches

The calf muscles attach above the knee on the backside of your leg. This means that if your calves are tight, your knees won’t be as flexible as they should be.

To stretch your calves, slowly lunge into a wall keeping your back leg straight. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and then complete on the other leg.

Heel Raises

Another great way to add stability to your knees is by completing heel raises. To complete this exercise, rise up onto your toes keeping your knees straight. Since the calf muscles attach above the knee, stretching these muscles will also help to strengthen the knee joint and decrease any knee pain.

You should feel a tight squeeze when you are at the top of the movement (heels completely off the ground) and then slowly lower back down.

Wall Sit

If you find that performing a squat is too painful for your knees, try a wall sit. This is where you sit with your back against a wall and hold for 15-20 seconds.

By holding this movement, you are strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint without actually moving the knee itself. This allows you to get strong without making your knee aches and pains worse.

Swimming

A fantastic way to strengthen and improve flexibility in the knees is by jumping in the pool! Water eliminates gravity and provides buoyancy making it the perfect low impact activity. This means less body weight is going through the joints, allowing you to complete exercises in the pool that might be too painful to do on land.

You can also do this activity all year round either in an indoor pool or outdoor pool! Both will do just fine. (For more information, check out these Pool Exercises for Seniors).

Cycling

Hopping on a bike and going for a ride is one of the best ways to build strength in your knees. Cycling allows you to strengthen the muscles on the front and back of your thigh in a controlled manner that avoids injury.

Make sure the bicycle seat height is appropriate for you in order to avoid unneeded stress on the knees. Another plus is that this activity can be done all year round, both indoors and outdoors! You can use a stationary bike for those cold winter months and in the spring and summer, take this workout outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather.

DPT, Doctor of Physiotherapy

Eric Leckie is a men's health Physiotherapist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He completed his studies in Australia earning his Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. He currently works in a private practice, in addition to owning his own Telehealth Physiotherapy clinic which focuses on treating men with prostate cancer.

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