If you have pain underneath or just below the knee cap (aka, the patella), you've come to the right place to learn how you can change it. This impairment is called anterior knee pain, or patellofemoral pain. Anterior means the front side of your body; and patellofemoral refers to the joint where your patella and thigh bone (femur) come together and make your knee.
In Part I of this two-part series, I outlined the different causes of anterior knee pain. Because, hey, knowledge is power and if you know what causes it, you can fix it! In this second part, you will learn all the great ways you can help yourself so that you no longer have to live with this nagging pain in the knee!
If you truly do have anterior knee pain, you will most likely experience pain when you squat, go up or down stairs, jump, run on inclines, or even after sitting for prolonged periods. Sound familiar? If so, know that two of the four most common causes of anterior knee pain are weak muscles and tight muscles. The great news is you can do something about that!
How you can help yourself with anterior knee pain-
Stretch your hips, thighs, and lower leg muscles
Standing quad stretch- This stretch targets the front part of your thigh, or your quadriceps muscles. While standing, grab hold of your ankle or back of the pant leg. Try to keep your knees together as you pull your ankle toward your buttock and feel a stretch in the front of your leg. Hold on to a chair or counter for balance if you need. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat 2 times each leg.
Standing calf stretch- Begin by standing at a wall and placing one leg further behind you to stretch the back of the leg. (This stretches your gastrocnemius muscle.) Press your heel down for more of a stretch. Hold 30 seconds.
Then, keep your heel on the floor but bend your knee. This will cause a stretch even lower in the back of the leg. (This stretches your soleus muscle.) Hold 30 seconds. Repeat both stretches 2 times each leg.
Standing hamstring stretch- This is a stretch for the back of your leg. Place the foot of the leg you're stretching out in front of you with your knee straight and toes up toward the ceiling. Maintain a long spine and a flat back (no rounding) as you bend forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat 2 times each leg.
Figure-4 stretch- This is a great stretch for your hips! Either lie on the floor or on your bed for this one. Place one ankle on the opposite knee to make a Figure 4 with your legs. Then bring that opposite knee up toward your chest as you grab hold around the thigh. You should feel a stretch in the hip and buttock. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat 2 times each leg.
Strengthen your quads, hips, and core muscles
*You will need an elastic resistance band for the first two strengthening exercises. They are relatively inexpensive and are a great way to do exercises anywhere. That is an affiliate link, and by purchasing here you support Mountains & Motion. Thank you.
Long arc quad with resistance band- Sit at the edge of your chair and place your resistance band (medium-to-heavy resistance) around both ankles. With one foot, step on the loop to hold the band in position. Then straighten the other leg to tighten your thigh muscles, resisting against the band. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat 15 times. Perform 3 rounds per leg.
Lateral walking with resistance band- Place the looped band around your thighs just above your knees. Then begin walking sideways, pulling the band tight as you walk. Try to always keep some resistance on the band (so don't let your feet come together as you step). Step 15 steps to the left, and then return 15 steps to the right for 1 lap. Perform 3 laps, resting in between if you need. For more of a challenge and if it doesn't hurt your knees, perform this while maintaining a mini-squat position (as pictured).
Floating knees in quadruped- Get into a table-top position (quadruped) on hands and knees. Tuck your toes under so that you can press into your feet, popping your knees off the ground about 2 inches. Keep your belly button lifted to the ceiling for more engagement of your abdominal muscles. Hold 10 seconds. Rest, then repeat 6 times.
Avoid activities that reproduce and amplify your anterior knee pain until you can ease back into them without pain. Also, seek help from a physical therapist if you try these exercises consistently and your symptoms are not resolving or are getting worse. Your physical therapist can assess what is causing your pain specifically to help you get on the right track to healing.
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear! Leave a message below in the comments.