Exercises may strengthen knee muscles

Stay Fit


I'm a woman in my early 70s and fairly active. However, when I stoop down or get down on the floor, I have a difficult time getting back up. This is particularly embarrassing at the grocery store when I need to look at something on a shelf near the floor.

Most of my friends have the same problem. Is this problem caused by muscles or old knees? Are there any exercises that could help alleviate this situation?

For knee advice, I talked to Dr. George J. Kessler, an attending physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital, who has just written the book, No More Knee Pain (Berkeley Books, $24.95). While Kessler can't diagnose clinical problems without examining you, he says a few things come to mind.

One possibility: Osteoarthritis in your knees. The Arthritis Foundation (arthritis.org) has a wealth of information for anyone suffering from joint disease. In fact, the group advises people to talk to their doctors about a dietary supplement, glucosamine/chondroitin, because a recent study shows it is effective in relieving pain for people with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis.

Another possibility: A combination of a muscular weakness and a mechanical kneecap or knee joint problem. If it were purely a muscular issue, Kessler says, the weakness would hamper other activities, including walking up and down stairs. He suggests seeing a physical therapist.

To strengthen weakened knee muscles, Kessler offers the following exercises:

Leg raise, front -- Lie on your back, with your right knee bent at 90 degrees, and your right foot on the floor. Your other leg should be flat on the floor. Raise your straight leg slowly to a 45-degree angle. Hold it there for a count of five. Slowly lower to the floor, during another count of five. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.

Leg raise, back -- Lie on your belly with both legs flat. Raise one leg off the floor, bending slightly at the hip. Raise your legs as far as you can comfortably lift. Hold for a count of five and return. Complete two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.

Knee raise -- Sit on a chair or bed with your knees at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your knee toward the ceiling until it reaches a 30-degree angle, then hold and return to start. Complete two sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.

I'm a woman in my mid-40s and have been jogging since my teen years. I jog about three miles, three times a week. I feel it helps keep me fit physically, mentally and emotionally. I also do free weights or yoga on other days.

I've had friends tell me that I should switch to a non-impact aerobic sport, such as cycling or swimming, because I may be damaging my knees. If I'm not currently experiencing pain, could I still be damaging my joints and setting myself up for future knee replacement surgery?

In general, running doesn't cause knee injury unless there's an underlying problem or you are training improperly. It doesn't sound like you are in either camp. So I wouldn't jump off the running bandwagon, yet.

Kessler, of New York Presbyterian, agrees: "By all means do not stop running," he says. "When you wear good shoes, [be sure to] run within your comfort zone, maintain good strength and flexibility, warm up and stretch. Your knees should carry you on many mind-clearing runs."

The American Running Association (americanrunning.org) says most knee injuries are caused by improper training.

To train properly, make certain that hard runs are followed by easier workouts. Your plan to cross-train with yoga and weight lifting sounds perfect. If you are looking to mix it up, swimming and cycling always are recommended by personal trainers. Swimming is good because you are weightless in the water.

Still, if you start having pain near your kneecap (runner's knee), if you hear a popping noise, or if your knee locks, you'll need to contact an orthopedic doctor.

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