5 Exercises That Fixed My Chronic Knee Pain
Health Mastery | Edition Nº12
I never like thinking about how long I had to deal with chronic knee pain. It bothered me for years and incinerated my motivation to do any exercise.
The thing is, I’ve had to deal with knee injuries more than once. The first time it appeared was when I was out for training on my bike. I was starting to increase my training volume to build my endurance. Then, halfway through the ride, my knee seized. It was searing and prolonged—and I was in the middle of nowhere, so I had to ride a dozen miles with this pain.
A few years later, I finally fixed this knee pain with a mix of physiotherapy, bike fitting and research. But it reappeared after—a different pain this time, but the same knee. The pain was sharp and piercing through the inside of my knee. I had my past problems diagnosed as Osgood-Schlatter disease and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome by this point, but this was something else. It didn’t last as long, but it gave me a lot of stress.
The third and most recent knee pain I had was the longest-running. It was a familiar deep and hot pain that sometimes lasted days. It was the other knee now, and, stupidly, I did a 4-hour ride on this injury. Trying my best to ignore it and carry on.
Now—around two years later—I’m 99% certain it’s all clear.
The reason I’ve had this many problems with knee pain is I neglected my core. There’s no argument against it. I didn’t need surgery. It was a simple fact that I overused certain muscles, trained too hard, and neglected my core strength.
Only when I read deeper into how core training was when I prioritised it. I’ve competed in sports since I was 7/8 years old. And I’ve been doing home workouts since I was around 8/9 years old. I’ve dealt with numerous problems but I never realised it was a weak core that caused all of those problems until much later.
I recently wrote a more general piece about our core and the core exercises you should do daily. I want to make it easy to understand how important core training is and the myths we’re fed about getting good “six-pack abs”, so you can follow the simple methods to avoid the same problems I had. But if you’re ever dealing with knee pain, then this is for you.
Here are the five exercises.
1. Clamshell Exercise
This is one of the most effective exercises I can recommend. It helps to develop a vital group that protects you from knee pain: gluteus medius (side of the hip).
I’d wrap a mini-band between my legs (slightly above my knees) and do 10–20 reps. Then, I’d push my knees apart, hold the top position and squeeze my glutes for two seconds, then take 2-4 seconds to lower my leg back to the start.
You could also perform the exercise faster (1:1:1) or do 30 reps (three sets) with a 30-second rest period.
You can do this exercise with or without a mini-band, but I use them because they are so good at creating the best sensation that helps you engage your glutes better in future. I sometimes did this exercise twice a day because it doesn’t take much time at all.
2. Single-Leg Quarter Squat Holds
If my knee pain were pretty severe, I’d avoid this exercise. Once it eased, this became a top pick for me to help develop quadriceps and hamstring strength.
A physiotherapist once told me the best exercises to do when dealing with injury are isometric exercises. Isometric means you hold a position rather than do reps, like during a plank.
This works because most exercises involve repeated loading and unloading on your muscles, which can cause more pain.
Stand next to a sturdy object — a table or desk— and go into a slight single-leg squat. Put your hands on your hips and hold still for 10-30 seconds. You could hold the sturdy object the entire time or try to balance. I repeated this up to three times and sometimes did it twice a day.
3. Lying Glute Squeezes
This is the “easiest” exercise on the list. This exercise teaches your glutes to wake up and do some work. You can do this in a prone position, while sitting, or while standing up.
First, in any position, squeeze your glutes to activate them, then slowly relax. Repeat that 10-20 times. Next, move on to the main exercise (picture above). Raise one leg, squeeze your glute and hold that position for two seconds before lowering it back down before releasing the tension.
This exercise taught my glutes to contract before my hamstrings (which was the key to my knee pain). I explain more about it and several other exercises in my ebook: The Core Book.
4. Wall Squats
I thought this would be hard on my knees, but it surprisingly wasn’t. I alternated between having a swiss ball on my back and having my back against the wall for this exercise. Typically, you slide into a squat position and hold for up to 30 seconds for one or two sets.
The best thing about this core exercise is the wall (or swiss ball) makes the load much easier on your knees when returning to the starting position. If I were doing repetitions, I’d do no more than ten.
5. Straight Leg Raises
This exercise helps develop your quadriceps.
I used a mini-band and to get a better sensation in my quadriceps and hip muscles. I would move into the position and hold for two seconds before slowly lowering my leg back to the floor. This exercise is relatively simple but can be harder than it looks. But it works very well without a mini-band.
Core training helped me with many physical problems I never thought would go. I now want as many people as possible to learn more about it and hopefully have it help them — that’s my goal, anyway; if one person benefits from this, it’ll be a success.
Maintaining good core strength, stability, and endurance will guarantee you can move and live better with less pain and more time to do the things you enjoy.
I believe that everyone, to some degree, should be doing core exercises every day; one workout can take less than 15 minutes and fix problems that might last a lifetime.
Some final considerations:
These exercises were prescribed to me by a professional. They’re specific but can work for anyone suffering a similar injury. If you try these exercises, please check with a professional you can do so without concern.
Isometric exercises were the most effective way for me to relieve my pain. They help you avoid excessive loads and protect you from increasing the degree of your pain or injury.
I repeated this routine as part of a circuit twice a day.
Remember, it’s about the long game. It took me a month of doing these exercises consistently to notice a meaningful improvement. I believe you’ll achieve more with core training when you take your time, ramp up slowly, and enjoy this process. Your body will reward you for many years if you do.
Exercise is the art of continuous improvement through continuous movement.
I have a 51-page eBook on Core Training with 30+ exercises to help you prevent injury or discomfort forever. Check it out here.