5 Mobility Exercises to Combat Knee Pain

5 Mobility Exercises to Combat Knee Pain

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Originally from Outside Online

Your knees are your powerhouses. They’re essential for supporting all of your outdoor (and indoor) activities. But, often, you forget how critical they are to all of that running, climbing, and biking until they’re in pain. And I’ll say this: Knee pain is real.

My knee troubles have held me back from snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding, and trail running. It’s frustrating—especially when you feel like you don’t know how to wrestle back control over the pain. That’s where I hope to help: These five mobility movements will help bring your knees back to their prime state.

Why Does Mobility Work Reduce My Knee Pain?

In most cases, knee pain is caused by stiffness above and below the joint. When any joint becomes restricted by stiffness, your body will compensate elsewhere. The subsequent movements put more stress on your knee and the surrounding ligaments, resulting in, you guessed it, pain.

If you pair this stress with repetitive impact-based sports, such as running, hiking, or skiing, you’re at a much higher risk for prolonged knee pain or injury. However, you can manage this stiffness—and hopefully avoid those pangs—through targeted mobility work.

Mobility work improves blood flow to the targeted region and helps release tight tissue. After consistently practicing these types of exercises, you’ll likely find that your body no longer overcompensates for that stiffness in other areas. Without mobility work, you’re gambling with an endless adventure in potential pain.

RELATED: How to Build Hip Mobility Safely

It’s helpful to think of mobility as a “movement vitamin,” because just like the supplements, this type of work encourages your body to function as it should. If you want to reap the full benefits of mobility exercises, you should strive to practice daily.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or time-intensive. Rather, I encourage you to take small one- to five-minute movement breaks throughout your day instead of longer 15- to 30-minute sessions. Your knees will thank you.

5 Mobility Exercises for Knee Pain

Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)
Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)

1. Loaded Adductor Rock

WHAT IT DOES:

The adductors are the inner thigh muscles that help stabilize your hips and knees. When your adductors are stiff, they pull the pelvis out of alignment, which can lead to knee, hip, and back pain.

HOW TO DO IT:

Set up in a half-kneeling position. Your front leg should make a 90-degree angle. Create a 90-degree angle with your back leg, shifting it out to the side so that it’s perpendicular to your front leg. Once your hips are open, tuck your tailbone, and squeeze your glutes as you shift sideways towards your front knee. Drive your knee over your toes while keeping the heel glued to the floor. Hold this position for 3 seconds before contracting your core and driving back up. Aim for 5 to 10 reps per side.

An exercise that works on mobility for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)
An exercise that works on mobility for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)

2. 90/90 Internal Rotation Lift-Off

WHAT IT DOES:

You use your hip internal rotators when hiking, running, lifting, walking, and biking. As a result, when the deep hip internal rotators are stiff and weak, your pelvis cannot move properly, causing pain and dysfunction that can present as knee pain. The 90/90 lift-offs will help increase both strength and range of motion in your hips to help build healthy knees.

RELATED: The Busy Runner’s Weekly Strength and Mobility Plan

HOW TO DO IT:

Set up in a seated position with both legs at a 90-degree angle. Sit tall through your spine as you press your hands into the floor for support. Focus on driving your back knee into the ground as you lift the back heel. Flex your back toes toward your back shin. Drive your back ankle up for 3 to 5 seconds. Imagine that you are pushing it into a brick wall. Slowly lower it back down. Aim for 5 to 10 reps per side.

Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)
Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)

3. Loaded Ankle Rock

WHAT IT DOES:

A common cause of knee pain is a lack of ankle mobility. This movement increases range of motion at your ankle joint. When the mobility of that joint is limited, excess force is placed on your knee, causing discomfort.

HOW TO DO IT:

Set up in a half-kneeling position. Keep your front heel down as you drive your knee forward over your toes. If you can’t extend your knee over your toes, move it within a pain-free range of motion that feels comfortable. Hold this position for 5 seconds. To take this exercise further, place a weight on your front quad as you rock forward for 5 seconds. Aim for 5 to 10 reps on each side.

Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)

4. Elevated Pigeon Rotation

WHAT IT DOES:

The pigeon rotation is a great move to open up your hips and spine. Tight hips cause your pelvis to shift out of alignment, which can alter the way your knee functions, placing excessive stress on your knee joints. This move will help increase the external range of motion in your hips and stabilize your pelvis.

HOW TO DO IT:

You can do this move on the floor or on a box, chair, or bench. Set up with your right leg at a 90-degree angle on top of a box. Extend upright through your spine. Grab onto the edge of your box with your left hand for leverage, as you rotate and reach your right arm long behind you. Contract the core as you rotate, allowing the eyes to follow the fingertips. Aim for 10-15 reps on each side.

Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)
Woman demonstrates a mobility exercise for knee pain
(Photo: Liz Myers)

5. Couch Stretch

WHAT IT DOES:

This movement can help reduce stiffness through your hips and quads. Plus, it’s a good test of your knee flexion and hip extension. If you have trouble getting into this position, keep practicing this movement to build your mobility—or back your leg away from the wall to modify.

HOW TO DO IT:

You’ll need a box, couch, or wall to practice this exercise. Start in a half-kneeling position, with a cushion under your back knee for support. Slowly drive your back shin up toward your glutes. At the same time, push your knee back so it’s against the corner of the box, wall, or couch. Squeeze your black glute as you lift your chest and come into a high-kneeling position with your front ankle directly under your front knee. Hold in this position for 1 to 3 minutes. Repeat on each side.

RELATED: Runner’s Knee? Tight Hip Flexors? Learn how to prevent common upper leg injuries.

Liz Myers, BS, CSCS is the owner of Mtn Edge Performance where she helps athletes optimize their performance and have pain-free adventures in the mountains. She has a background in freestyle skiing, snowboarding, trail running, hiking, climbing, and mountain biking.

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