The 4 Best Exercises to Avoid Getting a Knee Replacement

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This was a common phrase during the era of the great depression. While sage advice for clothing, it doesn’t work so well if you apply it to our joints. Instead we should, “Use it, take care of it, or replace it and hope it works.” In our society, we are brutal to our knees. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, over 600,000 knee replacement surgeries are done in the US, each year. And each year the average age is getting younger and younger to the point that now 50% of those getting knee replacements are under 65 years old. Why is this? Are we just more active than our parents or grandparents? Could be. I also think we don’t train or train properly to protect and preserve our knees.

The knee is an interesting joint, unlike the hip or shoulder which is a very stable joint because the end of the bone (the ball) fits snugly into a perfect receiving cup (the socket), because it’s main stability comes from muscles, ligaments, and tendons. There really is no bony structure to have it move well. What this means is that if you have muscle weakness or imbalances you can alter how the joint moves and can cause some unnecessary wear and tear. What can be done to keep the knee functioning and performing optimally? Smart training. The following is my top 4 list of exercises I incorporate with those clients whose knees are already presenting some problems and they want to avoid or prolong needing to get a knee replacement. **Important note: clients have already seen a doctor regarding their knee problem. Many have also seen a physical therapist or are currently seeing a PT. I’m not a doctor and I don’t diagnose anything. 

4 Best Exercises to Avoid Knee Replacement

1- Sled Pushingsled-push

This is a great way to strengthen the quads (thigh muscles) while still being nice to the knees because the range of motion is smaller than a typical squat or lunge. It also removes the eccentric (lowering portion) of the exercise which is the one that makes you sore. Remember that time you went on a big hike? All that soreness you felt the day or two afterwards was from going downhill or the eccentric load.

2- Cable Leg Extensions

This exercise has cable-leg-extention-startcable-leg-extention-finishgotten a bad rap in recent years. To mitigate any issues most clients have, we once again decrease the range of motion, lighten the weight and focus on time under tension. Depending on how bad your knees are acting, if most walking, standing, stair climbing gives you problems, often taking gravity out of the picture can help strengthen those muscles while removing the joint pain.

3- Banded Bridges

This exercise hits your butt muscles (aka the glutes). While the glutes aren’t connected to your knee directly, they do play a significant role in them. Often weak glutes creates bad/faulty movements at the knee. banded-bridgeAlso, most people don’t use the hips/glutes as they should putting more strain and stress on the knees. This variation of the classic bridge puts more stress on the glutes so you feel it more. It also keeps you honest in your movement. If you create slack in the band at any point of the exercise, you’re setting yourself up for knee pain and/or problems.

4- Leg Curls

There are several ways to do this exercise, a machine, a cable pulley, cable-leg-curl-startcable-leg-curl-finishthose fancy suspension straps or in your socks on a hardwood floor. The point is to strengthen the hamstring muscles (back of the thigh). Most often, this motion does not cause pain in the knee assuming appropriate load. Not only does it strengthen the back of the leg, but as it does so, it also helps stretch out the quadriceps at the same time.


5- Walking Backwards

It’s as simple as it sounds. You’ll look less conspicuous if done on a treadmill, but this can be done outside or even with some resistance. Walking is often a well-tolerated exercise with a low enough load/force that it doesn’t bother most problematic knees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and found it useful. These are just a few of the exercises we use with our clients at Leverage Fitness Solutions, it all depends on the client and how they respond to a dose of an exercise. The biggest take away is train smart, work pain-free.