Nothing is more frustrating—or common—than nagging knee pain. The first step is to consult with your doctor to make sure you don’t have a more problematic injury. But if you’ve dealt with achy knees in the past, and are hoping to prevent future pains, look to your hips.
Painful knees have been tied to weak hips for years now—especially for women. Typically, rehab has focused on exercises that strengthen the big muscles that support your knees, including the quads and hamstrings, explains Jessica Malpelli, DPT, physical therapist in Tampa, Florida. But a new paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that programs that integrate exercises that strengthen the hips are more successful at relieving knee pain.
Your hip muscles are way more essential than you realize, explains exercise physiologist Michele Olson. “Stronger hips take a lot of weight and work off your knees,” she says. Here are four exercises Dr. Olson suggests to target the sweet spot and help nix knee pain for good.
1. Outer Leg Lifts
Lie on your right side, legs bent and stacked one on top of another. Bend your right arm and rest your head in your right hand. Plant your left palm flat on the floor in front of belly button. Now extend left leg away from body; this is your starting position. Without bending your left knee, lift leg up 45 degrees. Hold here for five seconds, then lower. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 reps; then switch sides.
2. Inner Leg Lifts
Lie on your right side with legs extended and stacked one on top of another. Bend your right arm and rest your head in your right hand. Plant your left palm flat on the floor in front of belly button. Bend left leg and plant left foot on the ground in front of right shin; this is your starting position. Keeping right leg straight, lift leg six inches off the ground. Hold here for five seconds, then lower. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 reps; then switch sides.
3. Single-Leg Deadlift
Stand tall holding a dumbbell (start with 8- to 10 lbs.) in each hand. Shift weight onto left leg and begin to slowly hinge forward, lowering weights in front of the body toward ankles, your right leg will raise behind you. Be sure to keep your spine long and abs tight. Slowly return to standing without letting the right leg touch the ground. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 reps; then switch sides.
Stand tall with feet together. Step right foot forward, bend knees and lower down and far as you can, keeping right knee stacked over right ankle, left hip stacked over left knee. Push back up to standing and repeat on the opposite side. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 reps.