Are you worried that working out could cause more knee damage or pain? As long as your doctor says it's OK, the best thing you can do is to strengthen the muscles that support your knee and keep them flexible. Start slowly, and build up over time. Talk to your doctor about which specific exercises are good for you.
You can ride a stationary bike for about 5 minutes, take a brisk 2-minute walk while pumping your arms, or do 15-20 wall push-ups followed by the same number of calf raises. Doing this will help you get more out of your workout, prepare you to stretch, and lower your risk of an injury.
If your knee's not at its best, start with a simple strengthening exercise for your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thigh. This move puts little to no strain on the knee. Lie on your back on the floor or another flat surface. Bend one knee and place your foot flat on the floor. Keeping the other leg straight, raise it to the height of the opposite knee. Repeat 10-15 times for three sets.
These are the muscles along the back of your thigh. Lie flat on your stomach. Slowly bring your heels as close to your butt as you can, and hold that position. Do three sets of 15. You can also do this exercise standing while you hold onto a chair and lift one leg at a time. If this becomes easy, you can add ankle weights, slowly increasing the weight from 1 to 3 to 5 pounds.
Lie on your stomach with your legs straight. Tighten the muscles in your bottom and the hamstring of one leg, and lift toward the ceiling. Hold 3-5 seconds, lower, and repeat. Do 10-15 lifts and switch sides. You can add ankle weights as you gain strength. You shouldn't feel back pain. If you do, limit how high you lift up. If it still hurts, stop and talk to your doctor.
This is a more advanced move. You'll keep your feet on the floor. Stand with your back against a wall, your feet about shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees, and keep your back and pelvis against the wall. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Don't bend too deeply. If you feel pressure or discomfort in your knees, change your position. Repeat the exercise, and try to hold the sit position a few seconds longer each time.
Stand facing the back of a sturdy chair, other support such as the back of a couch, or a wall bar at the gym. You can also do this on the stairs, holding on to the banister with your heels hanging off the edge of the step. Slowly raise the heels as high as you can, then lower. Do three sets of 10-15. When it becomes easy, lift one foot slightly off the floor, with all your weight on the other foot.
Place one foot on a step bench, platform, or the lowest step on a staircase. Keeping your pelvis level, bend your knee and slowly lower the opposite foot to the floor. Lightly touch your toe to the floor, then rise back up. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs. Too easy? Use a higher step, or touch your heel instead of your toe.
Lie on one side with your legs stacked. Bend the bottom leg for support. Straighten the top leg and raise it to 45 degrees. Hold for 5 seconds, lower and relax briefly, then repeat 10-15 times. Switch sides and start over. Want to try a bit of a different spin on the move? Point the toe of your upper leg slightly toward the floor as you raise it.
Sit on a leg-press machine with your back and head against the support and your feet flat on the foot plate. Adjust the seat back so it's comfortable. Slowly push the plate away from you until your legs are extended. Bend your knees and return to your starting position. Do three sets of 10-15 reps. (Ask a gym staff member for help the first time you do this.)
Exercise should never cause pain or make it worse. Remember: Muscle soreness after a hard workout is normal. But sharp, shooting, or sudden pain in the muscles or joints means you should stop and check with your doctor.
Gentle is good. So skip high-impact activities such as running or intense aerobics. Notice what feels right for you. For example, some people love elliptical machines, but others don't. Swimming, jogging in water, or water aerobics are often great! Double-check with your doctor about your exercise plan.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Jacobs Stock Photography
- Laura Layera / Flickr Open / Getty
- Eliza Snow / E+
- PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa
- Jamie Grill Photography
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Knee Exercises," "Knee Conditioning Program."
- William Levine, MD, professor of clinical orthopedic surgery, Columbia University Medical Center.
- Men's Fitness: "How to Exercise After an ACL Injury."