Most of us take them for granted… until they hurt.
Keeping a few simple guidelines in mind to strengthen your knees and avoid injury will go a long way toward keeping you pain-free. (Your future self will thank you!)
The Thing That Makes the Difference
House cleaning is great exercise, and that is a wonderful benefit of our livelihood. But here is something very important to remember: it’s the way you move that makes the difference in the long run. You are either building your body up by working muscles, or wearing your body down by stressing and straining joints.
According to WebMD, “The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body”. (Check out this informative graphic of the knee I found on their site.) There are plenty of moving parts that can go wrong, so it makes sense to give your knees their due respect and attention~ they really are amazing (and necessary) joints.
Protecting Your Knees While You Work
Don’t Kneel: Did you know there is a thing called ‘Housemaid’s Knee’? It’s from kneeling. The solution: don’t do it… there just ain’t enough padding on those bones. Years ago I thought nothing of cleaning floors ‘on my hands and knees’. I wore knee pads, which helped, but after learning more about how to care for my knees, I decided I’d better stop before I did some damage.
If you feel you must kneel, wear knee pads from a sporting goods store. I would wear them around my ankles and pull them up when needed. Not a real attractive look, but effective! LOL. If no knee pads, you can also use a cushy towel or pad.
Avoid resting on one knee when you are cleaning something low; squat instead.
Small floors can be cleaned while squatting (actually great exercise), and even if/when a large floor needs to be scrubbed, tile and grout can be cleaned with a ‘deck brush’ (scrub brush on a stick) found in the janitorial aisle of the hardware store.
Up the Stairs: Relying on your knees to hoist you (and your equipment) up stairs will take a hard toll over time. Instead, focus on giving your calves and upper legs a good workout by pumping you up the steps.
Down the Stairs: Going down stairs presents a different risk; especially while hauling equipment. If you land hard and sloppy on each step, your knee will take the brunt… and one of these days bone-might-meet-bone because the cushy stuff has been worn away, or your knee might bend in a way it was not designed to go. I had a very close call with serious knee injury while carrying a bundle hurriedly downstairs.
To protect your knees, land squarely on each step and focus on using your strong leg muscles as shock absorbers.
Wear Good Shoes: Shoes matter SO much. They should feel like bedroom slippers, and fit your feet perfectly. Go for plenty of cushion on the bottom. I keep my best athletic shoes for working, and use them inside-only.
Call in the Big Muscle Groups: Tightening and using your abs, glutes, thighs and calves transfers strain away from your knees (and back!), and puts it where it does some good. Even if you think you’re too young to worry about joint damage, tight muscles are a nice job benefit, right?
Posture: How you stand, and the way you walk, affects all your joints and muscles. It’s important to think about standing erect, and walking with a comfortable stride.
Vacuuming Strategies: The back-and-forth of vacuuming can be a strain on your knees and back; especially if the carpet is thick. Drop the handle low, and try to keep a square stance instead of leaning in on one leg. If possible, hold the handle with both hands and push using your upper arms.
Sometimes you can cross the room pushing (or pulling) the vacuum, then reverse direction lawn-mower style. That can help to avoid the strain of pushing back-and-forth from a dead stop.
Exercises to Strengthen Knees
Good News: I have finally found some marvelous exercises to strengthen knees!
The problem with many whole-leg-strengthening exercises is that, although they might be awesome for large muscles like quadriceps, they can be hard on the smaller muscles and ligaments of the knee.
These are different; especially my two favorites: #1 and #4. They take very little time because they are so targeted; building up parts of the knee system which tend to be under-used and weak.
‘Straight Leg Lift’ (#1), is just what I was looking for to strengthen the ligaments and muscles that hold my knee in proper position. Right away it helped my knee feel more securely ‘wrapped’. I do it for a few minutes, a few times per week.
‘Single Calf Raise’ (#4) is my answer for strengthening calf muscles, and strong calves are so necessary for healthy knees. This is not a complicated exercise (you can do it at the kitchen sink while waiting for the coffee to brew), but it is very effective for the calves, and also kind to the knees… a difficult combination to find.
Don’t Forget Stretches: They feel so good, and help to keep things ‘elastic’.
Beware the Hard Floor
Half my living space has vinyl flooring over a concrete floor. My knees don’t hurt at work, but they began to complain in the evening. I realized it was the hard floors! As soon as I started wearing my good work shoes around the house: problem solved.
Don’t keep pushing your knees if they are complaining.
If you are able to get off your feet in the evening, it helps. Early to bed is even better~ your body really does mend itself through the night, and the more time it has, the better. (I’ve heard it claimed that the earlier hours of the night are more restorative.)
I know, I know~ easier said than done….
Pain Relievers and/or Supplements?
I’m sure I should say something about ‘anti-inflammatory medications’ like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but I don’t use them much myself, so I don’t have any insight to give. I figure if something is inflamed; there’s a reason… and it’s wiser to figure out the reason and to find a solution, than to try to make the inflammation-symptom go away. (Not that pain relievers don’t have their place; I use them on occasion and they help.)
Looking into joint supplements might be useful; be sure to investigate all the components and their ratios… plus how likely it is your body will absorb them in the form and dosage you choose.
Several years ago I began making bone broth, and it became my answer to the supplement question. Everything is there in the proper ratio, and it’s real food. For me, it makes a noticeable difference in how lubricated my joints are.
It’s a bit of a hassle, though.
What do you do to protect and strengthen knees?