Sports for People with Knee Pain
If you are dealing with "bad" knees, the last thing you want to do is constantly exacerbate the problem by continuing to over-indulge in activities that create more stress on the joints. And, even though I would never suggest that someone give up an athletic activity that they enjoy* there are certainly times when we need to "dial it down" a bit in order to preserve our overall comfort. Let's just say that a pain-free life is a good life!
(*In the coming weeks, I'll be talking about the concept of "Activity Preservation", which we are using as a way to evaluate injuries and determine possible treatments based on where YOU are v.s. where you want to be in regards to your athletic pursuits).
In that spirit, I'm going to go through a few activities that are relatively low-impact when it comes to the body, and the joints in particular. If you have lingering or recurring knee pain due to overuse, these are sports that will provide good exercise, good fun, and minimal strain to our most important joints-- the knees.
(Note: Every person is different, so if have doubts about your ability to participate in these or any other types of activities, consult your doctor.)
From a cardiovascular standpoint, swimming is one of the best sports you can participate in. AND it's one of the most forgiving on the knees. And as a bonus, swimming is a sport that you can continue to push yourself in if you are the competitive type. So if you are merely sidestroking it down the pool at a leisurely pace or swimming 2000 yards per day, you can really supplement your pain-free lifestyle with this activity.
Another sport that is a great fit for people looking for a little competition and a healthy dose of cardio that won't put strain on the knees is rowing.
As an added benefit, rowing will get you outside on the water and enjoying a little camaraderie with your fellow participants. Do a little research online and you'll be sure to find a rowing club or association in your area.
Biking can be a good sport/exercise for people with bad knees, but it comes with a couple of caveats. Here's what to remember if you want to enjoy the fantastic sport of cycling and keep those knees healthy:
- Warm up before you start peddling hard. As with any exercise, you should "ease into it", but this is particularly important to remember if you have bad knees.
- Make sure to have proper form. Having good technique when it comes to peddling will reduce the chance that you do more harm to you knees.
- Pay attention to your body and stop when you feel pain.
- Make sure your equipment is a fit. The position of your seat makes a big difference when you are biking. Don't ride a frame that's too big or too small - go for just right.
4. Just Plain Walking
Okay, I cheated, this isn't really a "sport". But I just want to throw a reminder in here-- low impact walking or hiking a moderate trail can be a really nice way to get outside and enjoy some exercise without pushing the strain on your knees.
Walking is also a great way to stretch those joints and ease back into other, high-intensity forms of exercise. So find a nice comfy supportive pair of shoes and take a few spins around the block- walking is a lifelong activity that can help you stay healthy with minimal stress on the joints.
Dr. Sterett is Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America, and is one of the few physicians who have earned a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine.