Keep your knees pain-free with these stretches and strength-builders.

No More Knee Pain: How to Protect Your Knees

The knees are both the body’s largest joints and the most vulnerable to injury, especially if you’re active. One false move and these workhorses can be sidelined.

The most common injuries runners deal with are torn ligaments, patellar tendinitis, and “runner’s knee” or, more officially, patellofemoral pain syndrome. Take these precautions and reduce the likelihood of painful or debilitating damage.

1. Loosen Your Hips

Stiff hip joints are one of the most common causes of knee problems because tight hips can misalign your gait. An extremely effective hip opener is the yoga pose known as pigeon pose. In fact, yoga is full of great hip-opening exercises. Try a few of these and you’ll run in comfort.

2. Build Your Glutes

A common problem among runners and other athletes is the stabbing pain of iliotibial band (ITB) irritation. One of the best ways to prevent this is to strengthen your hip muscles, known as glutes, in turn stabilizing the pelvis. Running hills and climbing stairs are both good ways to get stronger glutes. Another is the forward lunge. Focus on engaging your core abdominal muscles as you step forward and lower yourself towards the floor. By stabilizing the pelvis, exercises that strengthen the glutes can help prevent ITB problems.

3. Strengthen Your Quads

Strong quadriceps muscles provide a support structure for your knees. With your feet side by side, extend both arms forward, then slowly lower yourself into a half-squat, stopping before your legs are parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight. Repeat 10-20 times.

4. Stretch Your Hamstrings

Lack of hamstring flexibility puts pressure on your knees in a host of ways. How to know if your hamstrings are tight? Try touching your toes. But even if you can, hamstring stretches are important for all runners. Lying hamstring stretches are one of the best ways to loosen up.

Brian Soo is a senior physical therapist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who works inpatient, outpatient, and in sports medicine.  A recreational runner for many years, Brian also bicycles, plays racquetball, and most importantly, paddles on a 20-person Dragon Boat team that competes internationally and practices three times a week. He also enjoys active video games and believes they can be an excellent complement to an overall fitness regime.