It’s common to worry about your knees as part of the aging process.

But an equally true statement is that you can look after your knees so they last you a lifetime!

Our knees are one of the most essential (and complex) joints in the body, as well as being prone to injury or degeneration.

They support us in walking, running, jumping, and standing upright, providing stability and flexibility to our movements.

In this article, we’ll explore the anatomy of the knee joint, common causes of knee pain, and strengthening exercises that can help prevent and manage knee problems better, helping you look after your knees.

I’ll also guide you on when to seek professional medical advice for knee issues if required.

How to strengthen knee tendons and ligaments

Knee Anatomy

The knee joint is made up of bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.

The bones that make up the knee joint include the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shinbone), and patella (kneecap).

These bones are connected by four major ligaments, which are:

  • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
  • The medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • The lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

The four ligaments act as stabilizers for the knee joint.

They’re essential for providing flexibility and mobility to the knees while protecting them from damage somewhat.

In addition to the four ligaments, four tendons attach muscle to bone in the knee area.

These tendons are called the iliotibial band, quadriceps tendon, patellar tendon, and hamstring tendon.

Together, in combination with their corresponding muscles, they work to provide strength to your knees as you perform various activities, such as walking or running.

When you think about it, the knee joint is a fantastic assembly of bones, muscles, and shock-absorbing soft tissues!

All these parts work together as a unit, giving our knees the strength and structure they need to carry out their role. 

Knowing how knees work helps us better understand how to protect them from harm too.

Your best bet, if you want my advice, is to engage in strengthening exercises and knee-friendly workouts to help prevent knee damage long-term.


Common causes of knee pain

While knee pain can be caused by various factors, some of the common causes are:

  • Injuries from falls or accidents
  • Overuse of the knee joint
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Ligament tears
  • Tendinitis
  • Fractures
  • Inflammation and bruising

High-impact sports like football and basketball put a lot of strain on your knees, particularly if you play professionally.

Even normal activities that you don’t think twice about, like hopping downstairs or jumping off a curb, can injure your knees if not done the right way.

Overuse of the knee joint is another source of knee pain.

When we partake in activities like running, skiing, dancing, jogging, etc. without adequate rest periods between sessions, this puts immense pressure on our knees, perhaps resulting in stiffness and soreness as well as inflammation.

Osteoarthritis is renowned as a leading cause of knee pain too.

It occurs when the cartilage between bones wears away due to aging or overuse, resulting in bone rubbing on bone.

Eventually, this leads to swelling, discomfort, and, in some cases, the inability to bear weight.

For detailed information about ligament tears, I recommend you read this post here.

Finally, tendinitis is known for causing discomfort around the knee area, particularly during exercise.

It affects the tendons in the knee, leading to bruising and inflammation.

To minimize the chances of developing tendonitis, it’s vital to warm up before any physical activity; this helps keep fresh, oxygenated blood flowing throughout the muscles, preventing them from becoming rigid and painful. The type of workouts I have done over the last 3 years to get me back to pre-injury form can be seen here.

Treatment options

Rest is essential for giving your body time to heal after an injury and for helping prevent injuries in the first place.

If you’re keen to look after your knees better, consider adding lower-impact sports and exercise options, such as swimming and cycling to break up the high-impact activities while remaining active.

Also, use weights correctly to help condition and strengthen the knee muscles (make sure you get guidance from a physical therapist on this.)

Ice is a great idea if you have an immediate knee injury. It should be applied right after the injury happens to reduce inflammation and swelling.

Compression bandages and knee braces aid in reducing swelling a day or so later by providing pressure relief from the injured area.

Some conservative treatments come under the acronym of ‘RICE’ (meaning rest, ice, compression, and elevation)

Other exercises help to strengthen weaker muscles elsewhere in the body, such as your hip flexors, quadriceps muscles, hamstring muscles, calf muscles, and abdominal muscles.

Strengthening these muscles will help your knees become stronger and more resilient to injury.

Depending on symptoms, medications may be prescribed, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections into the joint space (intra-articular steroid injections), or hyaluronic acid injections into the knee joint.

If none of these treatments prove effective, then surgery may be the only option, which is something that would need to be discussed with your medical doctor and orthopedic surgeon.


Knee-strengthening exercises

With the right exercises, you can strengthen your knee tendons, muscles, and ligaments to help improve flexibility, range of motion, and stability.

Here are some easy-to-follow exercises that can help you get started:

Calf Raises: To begin, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly raise yourself onto the balls of your feet. Hold for a few seconds at the top before lowering yourself back down. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions.

Straight Leg Raises: Start in a supine position and slowly lift one leg straight out in front of you until it’s roughly 30 degrees to the ground. Keep your toes pointed forward throughout this exercise, and focus on mindfully contracting your quadriceps throughout the movement. Hold for a few seconds at the top before slowly lowering yourself back down. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions each on both legs.

Knee Extensions: Sit in a chair with a straight posture and extend one leg out in front of you while keeping the other bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold for 3–4 seconds before bringing it back down to the starting position without touching the floor in between sets or reps, if possible (this will make it more challenging). Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions each on both legs.

Weighted Exercises: Once comfortable with basic strength training exercises, consider adding weights (such as ankle weights or hand weights) to increase the difficulty; start light since heavier weights put more strain on joints, especially those with pre-existing conditions such as arthritis or tendonitis.

Choose 1-2 exercises per session, focusing on different muscle groups around the knee, such as quadriceps muscles, hamstring muscles, calf muscles, etc. Aim to do these exercises 2-3 days per week, depending on activity level, and always consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new routine.

A physical therapist can give more information on suitable knee-strengthening exercises. Again, to see the type of exercises I do that have worked wonders for me please see this post here.

When to seek medical advice for knee problems

I think any knee injury should have a medical review if there is a concern present.

Similarly, any undiagnosed knee pain that persists longer than a few days is worth getting a doctor’s opinion on.

If your knee feels weak or painful after trying certain exercises, then you could consider seeing a physical therapist too.

Medical advice is essential if you’ve experienced any type of trauma, such as a car accident or a sports injury involving the knee.

I hope you find this post insightful. Why not read more of my posts here?

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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