Knees: How to Strengthen

The knee is one of the most used joints in our body. Every time we walk, run, jump or skip the knee is experiencing massive amounts of pressure. With every step, a single knee joint holds about one and a half times our body weight. This, along with regular wear and tear deteriorates the joint over time and the shock absorber (joint) between the two biggest bones in our body slowly wears away. And, knee pain is annoying. Whether it be from injury or just age, it can keep you from being active and spending time doing the stuff you love. It is one of the most common muscular ailments of adults over 70.  

Drawing of Leg Bones with Red “Pain” Coming from Knee Joint

There are many reasons your knees may ache more as you age. Some of the most recurring knee problems seen in seniors include: 

  • Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage in between your bones breaks down over time. It causes pain, stiffness, and general weakness which can contribute to further injury down the road.  
  • Tendonitis is the swelling and inflammation of a tendon. This can occur in the joint area and is caused by misuse or overuse. It’s often seen in people with an athletic background. 
  • The risk of injury becomes higher as we age. So regular knee injury is also a large issue for seniors. 
  • Degeneration and meniscus tears happen when a portion of the tissue in the knee is torn due to injury, such as a fall.  
  • Iliotibial band syndrome occurs when the ligament that runs along the outside of your thigh and attaches to your knee becomes inflamed or tight due to improper use.  

Lucky for us, these issues are not set in stone as we age. There are many ways to take preventative action before they ever occur or to keep them from occurring again. Here is a series of beginner exercises to help strengthen our aging knees.

Drawing of Knee Joint – Front View

Increase Knees Range of Motion

Improving your range of motion and flexibility is one of the best things you can do for aging knees. The more your joint moves, the more fluid your body keeps in between your bones, think of it as your knees being “greased” to allow for better movement.

Heel slides

  • While sitting on a table, bed, or the floor, stretch your legs straight out in front of you and wrap a towel around the front of your ankle.
  • Using the towel, slowly pull your heel towards your bottom until you feel a gentle pressure in the front of your knee or just above it.
  • Hold this position for five seconds and repeat 20 times alternating legs.

Knee Extension with Bolster

  • While sitting on a table, bed, floor, or couch, stretch your legs straight out in front of you and prop your heels up on something so that nothing is touching the back of your knees, (this can be a pillow, books, or a coffee table if you are sitting on the couch)
  • Fully relax in this position for a few minutes to get a full extension.

Hamstring stretch

  • Standing, prop your heel on a low chair, stair or step OR by standing with one foot ahead of the other keeping your feet hip width apart.
  • With your back completely straight, bend at the waist towards your propped foot until you feel a slight stretch in the back of your leg, hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Repeat this on the other leg as well.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening your knees keeps them sturdier and less likely to experience serious injury in the event of a faltering step or fall.

Knee Extensions

  • While sitting up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, slowly raise one leg off the floor and extend it out in front of you.
  • You will feel the muscles in the top of your thigh working. Hold this position for a few seconds and SLOWLY lower your leg back to the floor.
  • Do ten reps and repeat with the other leg.

Side Steps

  • Stand in an open space with your legs about shoulder-width apart.
  • Step one leg to the side so that your legs are far apart and then step your other leg up next to it.
  • Do this again in the opposite direction.
  • Repeat this 10-12 times for no more than 3 reps

Standing Knee Flexion

  • Stand with a counter or table in front of you to support your balance.
  • Keeping your balance on the object in front of you, lift one leg off the floor bending your knee to bring your heel as close to your bottom as possible.
  • Straighten your leg back down to the ground and complete 10 reps on the same leg
  • Then do the same process with the second leg, and repeat this exercise up to 3 times.

For optimal results work these exercises into a daily routine.

By: Timandra Rowan


Harvard Health

Silver Sneakers

Care as One

Arizona Center of Aging

Connecticut Children’s Medical Center

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