Millions of Americans suffer from joint pain and often let the pain prevent them from participating in everyday tasks. Avoiding motion and activity may decrease your pain momentarily, but over time, it only increases the stiffness of the joint and further limits motion. Movement actually increases movement, and non-compounding, low-impact exercises actually strengthen your joints while reducing pain.
It is important to keep in mind that before all physical activity and workout routines, individuals should warm up the muscles in your body by doing an activity such as walking, jogging or biking for five to ten minutes before stretching the muscles. Regularly stretching, while often ignored, can have the biggest benefit for your joints. Stretching decreases uneven pull on joints before exercise, and helps loosen muscles up after exercise. Exercises to help strengthen specific joints include:
- Lower back rotational stretch – Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your shoulders firmly on the floor, roll your bent knees to one side; then return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
- Pelvic tilt – Draw belly button toward your spine and hold.
- Plank – Plant the hands directly under the shoulders like you’re about to do a push-up. Ground the toes into the floor and squeeze the glutes to stabilize the body. Your head should be in line with your back. Hold.
- Straight leg raises – Lie on the floor, upper body supported by your elbows. Bend your left knee, with your foot on the floor. Keep the right leg straight, toes pointed up. Tighten your thigh muscles and raise your right leg. Keep your thigh muscles tight and slowly lower your leg to the ground.
- Low-weight knee extension – Sit in a chair with your back resting against the back of the chair. Extend your right leg in front of you, parallel to the floor, until your knee is straight, with toes pointed toward your head. Lower your leg back to the ground.
- Standing hip abduction – Stand with feet slightly apart, knees slightly bent, hands on hips or one hand on a chair or wall for balance. Keeping toes pointed forward, foot flexed and leg straight, lift the left foot off the ground and out to the side as high as you can. Lower slowly with control, without letting left foot or leg rest.
- Hip extension – Standing by a counter or chair for support, keep abs tight. Raise one leg slightly backward, keeping your knee straight, until your foot is about 3 to 4 inches off the floor. Hold, then slowly lower.
- Internal and external rotation - Tie a resistance band to a door knob or stationary object and stand to the side, holding the band with your elbow bent and at your side. Keep your elbow close to your side and bring your arm across your body. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat, but rotate your arm outward.
- Ceiling punches – Lie on your back with one arm straight up toward the ceiling. Punch up toward the ceiling.
- Wall push-ups - Standing at arm’s length from a wall, extend your arms so your hands are flat on the wall at shoulder height. In one movement, press your body toward the wall as if doing a push-up.
- Chin tucks – Slowly move your chin back and slightly down
Posture and proper body mechanics play a huge role in preventing joint injury and pain. Whether an individual is standing or sitting, maintaining correct posture with their head in a neutral position, shoulder blades back and back straight helps alleviate pressure on the spine. Before beginning a regular exercise routine, it is always important to be assessed by a medical professional to ensure safety and benefit. The exceptional team of physical therapists and related healthcare providers at Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers is dedicated to educating individuals in the community about the importance of exercising while helping to preventing joint pain and injury.
Kris Leamon is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation. He received a Bachelor of Science in sports medicine from Western Carolina University in 2011 and his doctorate in physical therapy from Elon University in 2015.