If you are experiencing pain in your knees, you are probably eager to relieve it any way you can. Be it through painkillers, aspirin, or simply icing the afflicted knee, you’re likely seeking any relief you can get. What you may not know is that there is a way to not only get short-term relief but to resolve the issue in the long term as well.
Any physician or physical therapist worth their salt will tell you that exercise is one of the best methods for resolving long-term knee pain. The real question is, what kind of exercise best suits the pain? First, it can be worthwhile to examine the cause of the pain you experience.
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Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band Syndrome)
One of the most notorious conditions responsible for chronic knee pain is IT Band Syndrome. IT Band Syndrome often manifests as a stabbing sensation in the knees that can be overwhelming. Those of you who are not regularly exercising or are just getting back into exercising are among the highest risk for IT Band Syndrome due to what exactly causes it.
IT Band Syndrome is a connective tissue injury inflicted from overuse. If you are overworking your muscles when they are not accustomed to such intense workout regimens, you are more likely to strain them and damage the connective ligaments in the joint.
The iliotibial band, for which the condition is named, is a thick tissue band starting in the iliac crest (located in the pelvis), running down through your thigh, and crossing the knee to attach to your shinbone. The iliotibial band runs against the bony condyle, usually protected by a sac or bursa, and suffers from pain when it becomes inflamed from overuse.
If the symptoms of IT Band Syndrome are ignored, the inflammation becomes more severe and will scar the bursa, hindering the knee’s range of motion. While the primary treatments for IT Band Syndrome are the typical rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) treatment plan, physical therapy and exercise that takes some pressure off the knees can help reinforce the afflicted area and reduce chronic pain.
Exercises and Stretches for Knee Pain
While a resistance band is a helpful piece of equipment, you still need to find exercises that will help you cope with the pain stemming from your knee. Fortunately, exercise has become a vast industry backed by medical science. According to Healthline, there are ten proven exercises that are tried and tested to be effective for treating knee pain. The first three are stretching exercises to get you warmed up:
- Heel and Calf Stretch: This specific exercise works the muscles in your lower leg, specifically in your calf. Stand with one leg behind you and lean forward, stretching out the rear leg’s calf and heel. Switch legs and repeat to stretch the other leg.
- Quadriceps Stretch: This exercise targets the muscles in the front of your thighs. It is excellent for improving the flexibility in your hip flexors and quadricep muscles. Stand on one foot (using a chair or wall to balance) and grip one heel, pulling your leg back. You should feel it in the front of your thigh.
- Hamstring Stretch: This exercise is for the muscles in the back of your thigh. Lay on your back on the ground, and raise one leg straight up. Pull it upwards gently. You should feel the stretch throughout the back of your leg, primarily in your thigh.
The remaining seven exercises are strengthening exercises that bolster the muscles and make them more resilient. These are the exercises that could help your body recover from pain:
- Half Squat: This exercise strengthens your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings without putting a strain on your knees. Be sure not to squat too deeply, so you avoid putting weight on your knees specifically.
- Calf Raises: This exercise strengthens the back of your lower legs. Stand on your tip-toes, raising and lowering yourself gently. Use a chair or wall for balance.
- Hamstring Curl: This exercise strengthens your hamstrings and glutes and helps maintain your core strength. Stand straight and raise one leg back, heel towards the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 seconds, lower, and repeat.
- Leg Extensions: This exercise strengthens your quadriceps while keeping the pressure off your knees. While sitting, straighten and raise one leg in front of you as high as you can. Pause, lower, and repeat.
- Straight Leg Raises: This exercise strengthens your quadriceps and hip flexor muscles and, with a flex of the foot, will strengthen your shins. This exercise is similar to the hamstring stretch, except your lower leg is bent instead.
- Side Leg Raises: This exercise strengthens your hip abductor muscles and glutes. While laying on your side, raise your top leg upwards, then lower it again.
- Prone Leg Raises: This exercise strengthens your hamstrings and glutes. Lay flat on the ground, facing the floor. Raise your leg backward and up, keeping it as straight as possible.
You can see more detailed descriptions of how to perform these exercises, as well as gifs of them in action, here.
These are not all the exercises that will help with your pain, but merely ten of the most popular. However, these exercises are more commonly performed without the aid of resistance bands. There are always ways to better tend to your chronic knee pains.
You might be wondering to yourself, “what is a resistance band?” A resistance band is an elastic band that, as the name implies, resists pressure. Generally, resistance bands are used in strength training programs to build up muscle. However, they can also be used for physical therapy treatments. Resistance bands offer a great number of benefits and advantages that other exercise equipment might lack.
- Travel-Friendly: Resistance bands are compact and inexpensive, making them an excellent piece of equipment for those of us who are constantly on the move and want to bring our exercise or physical therapy equipment with us.
- Multi-Level: Resistance bands are not a “one and done” piece of equipment. They come in a variety of thicknesses and resistance levels that are generally denoted by color. This multi-level structure allows you to upgrade your bands based on your progress on your path to recovery.
- Variety: Resistance bands are one of the few pieces of exercise equipment that do not require a specific kind of exercise to be effectively used. Instead, resistance bands can be used as an accessory to any exercise you are already familiar with to strengthen your knees and help reduce your pain.
A resistance band is an all-around modular piece of exercise equipment that strains your muscles to reinforce them. The more your body is forced to strain itself, the stronger the resulting muscles become. The stronger your muscles are, the less pain you will experience.
Resistance Band Exercises and Stretches
While some basic exercises may be of use in reconciling the chronic pain induced from IT Band Syndrome, using a resistance band to supplement the exercise will help reinforce the knee and reduce any long-term pain that may occur. The workout site, Set for Set, recommends these six exercises using a resistance band to relieve knee pain:
- Terminal Knee Extension
- Lying Hip Extension
- Front Leg Extension
- Lying Knee Extension
- Lying Glute Extension
- Stork Stance TKE
The six exercises are best combined with a resistance band due to how the resistance band helps rehabilitate the knee. The resistance band allows the strengthening of the tendons, connective tissue, and muscles around your knee without the hard impact of directly exercising the knee itself. This makes resistance bands a superb choice for the rehabilitation of your knee after suffering from IT Band Syndrome.
Another fitness company, TheraBand, has its own recommendations for rehabilitation from knee injuries. TheraBand’s regimen recommends a two-step rehabilitation course focusing on different workout types to combat IT Band Syndrome while using resistance bands as a supplementary tool for the best results.
TheraBand’s first step is focusing on strength development. IT Band Syndrome relates heavily to weakness and instability; therefore, enhancing and reinforcing the muscles provides relief. TheraBand’s regimen recommends hip abductor, hip extensor, and Gluteus Medius strengthening exercises.
True to the basic exercises without resistance bands, TheraBand recommends using stretching exercises to loosen the muscles before strengthening them. Increasing flexibility helps overcome the strain and tension that leads to IT Band Syndrome and, therefore, resolve the chronic pain that manifests. Using additional tools such as rollers or exercise balls can help you stretch more effectively.
What to Avoid
There is a fine line between rehabilitation and exacerbation, especially if you suffer from sensitive joints or have preexisting injuries. To this end, there are several exercises and activities you would be wise to avoid pending your rehabilitation. The first thing you should do is test the waters. Regardless of your experience level with exercise, always start exercises with the lowest level resistance band to determine how much pain you will be experiencing.
It is never a good idea to jump to the highest level under the impression it will accelerate the healing process since you are more likely to cause even more damage.
You can also take some precautions to prevent knee injuries like IT Band Syndrome from happening in the first place.
If you are a runner who favors indoor tracks or running strictly in one direction, you will do well to reconsider. Running consistently in the same direction causes an artificial tilt to your pelvis, which boosts the risk of inflammation. If you are a cyclist, you should remain aware of how you pedal. It is an unconscious reflex to pedal with your toes curled in, but this is liable to cause an abnormal stretching of the iliotibial band at the knee.
Unfortunately, like many conditions, certain factors are out of our control that contributes to the likelihood of knee and joint pains. Conditions like; arthritis, bowed legs, or general musculoskeletal conditions developed from genetic factors can lead to knee pain over time.
If exercise is not an option for your recovery, there are other ways to heal yourself. Products like InflammaZone help reduce inflammation and pain without exercise when the rehabilitation courses run the risk of doing more harm than good.
It may seem all well and good to inform you of how to use resistance bands to enhance your rehabilitation regimen, but you are likely wondering where to find resistance bands that have a good reputation or are affordable for your needs. Fortunately, we have a list ready to go for you:
- Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands: Boasting a whopping 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and an equally appealing low price of only $9.95, this brand offers the best overall quality available.
- ‘Insonder’ Resistance Bands Set: With a rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon, the main appeal of this brand stems from its $5.99 price tag, making it one of the best budget brands available.
- Kootek 18 Pack Resistance Bands Set Workout Bands: With 4.7 out of 5 stars, this brand offers a fantastic set with a wide array of versatility for a plethora of rehabilitation exercises and stretches. The only real con to this set is its $27.99 price tag.
- Peach Bands Resistance Bands Set: With a 4.4 out of 5 stars rating and a moderate price of $15.99, this set may not seem that appealing. However, it is ideal for gluteal workouts, which are equally as important for treating knee pain.
- TheraBand Resistance Band Set: This set, coming from the previously mentioned TheraBand, bears a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 and will run you $14.99. However, TheraBand’s brand of resistance bands offers the best possible option for flexibility and stretching, making them ideal for following TheraBand’s two-step rehabilitation program.
Choosing from any of these brands of resistance bands will leave you excellently supplied for your rehabilitation course. The beauty of these bands is that most of them are highly affordable and equally effective, with one of the best sets barely exceeding $5. So, if you are looking into supplying yourself with the tools you need to begin a physical therapy regimen, look no further than Amazon’s offerings of some of the most effective brands of resistance bands for your needs.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome is one of the most painful and frustrating conditions athletes deal with. But with the right tools and exercise, it can not only be treated but prevented. Following the guidelines of proper exercise form and using the resistance bands to strengthen your muscles, you will be able to overcome any lasting pain.
It is still important to remember that other factors contribute to the manifestation of IT Band Syndrome, such as other genetic conditions that cannot be avoided. Still, there exist supplements to help treat the inflammation even when exercise is not a viable option.
If you feel that intense pain in your knees, consult your physician or your physical therapist and get to work on the treatment that best suits you.