Knee problems are all too common in the U.S., especially among those who lead an active lifestyle. If you’ve experienced this issue first-hand, you’re likely familiar with the frustration of having to take time off from the gym or skip certain activities because of pain. But while knee problems can be a serious concern, there are ways to give your body its best chance at avoiding them. By taking preemptive steps to avoid knee injuries, you can help keep your workout regimen on track and keep your body at peak health. You just need to be intentional about increasing your flexibility and building your strength, while staying aware of the risks of your activities.

Work on your flexibility
You tend to be more prone to injury when your limbs are stiff and inflexible. If you experience knee pain or soreness during or after workouts, a lack of flexibility could be one cause. To increase the pliability of your muscles, be intentional about stretching regularly. Everyday Health recommended stretching the muscles on the front and back of your thighs to decrease the amount of tension that is put on your tendons during exercise. This will help to take stress off of your knees. Use your favorite Baby-G digital watch to time your stretches each day.

But all stretching isn’t good stretching. Be careful that you aren’t doing your body more harm than benefit.

“One of the most common things that causes knee injuries is the runner’s stretch,” Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center told Everyday Health. “That’s when you grab your foot, bringing heel to butt. We all do it, but it’s one of the things that tends to increase knee pain. By bending the knee all the way, the kneecap gets jammed into the bones below it.”

While you may feel mild discomfort when you stretch, sharp pain is generally a sign that you’re doing something wrong.

Don’t neglect strength training
Flexibility is important, but you can’t neglect strengthening your muscles. Weak muscles can increase your odds of an injury when you work out.

“Strengthening the muscles around the joint protects you from injury by decreasing stress on the knee,” Dr. Willibald Nagler, chairman of rehabilitation medicine at the New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center, told Prevention magazine.

However, if you have knee problems, you need to choose your strengthening exercises wisely. Prevention magazine suggested doing partial squats, a variation on the more traditional exercise. Place a chair about a foot behind you and stand with your feet hip-length apart. Keeping your abs engaged, bend at the waist and slowly lower yourself half way to the chair. Pause and then return to your original position. Repeat the exercise 10 to 12 times, making sure that your knees never extend beyond your toes.

Calf raises are another great option when you’re dealing with weak knees, the magazine reported. Simply stand behind a chair with your hands placed lightly on the back and your toes pointed forward. Your feet should once again be hip-width apart. Rise to your toes, lifting your heels of the floor, and hold the position for a few seconds. Slowly lower yourself down and repeat 10 to 12 times. This exercise and the partial squats can be performed two to three times a week.

If you have a serious problem with your knees, consider discussing specific exercises with a physician or physical therapist to find the strengthening regimen that will most effectively address your particular issues.

Be sport specific
While improving your strength and flexibility will go a long way in preventing injuries, don’t forget to think specifically about the sports or physical activities that you participate in. For example, if you’re a runner, the American College of Sports Medicine reported that you should replace your running shoes approximately every 300 miles. Worn-out shoes won’t give your joints the support that they need, which can result in an injury.

If you have a tendency toward developing knee problems, talk to your coach, instructor or physician about what precautions you should specifically be taking for your activity of choice. You should never push through serious pain without speaking to a professional.

Avoid any injuries by being prepared and carefully timing your exercises with the Baby-G BGA180-2B3, equipped with a stopwatch and multi-function alarms ready to remind when to rest.

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