sore knees

When I stopped running for good three years ago, I optimistically thought all my ailing body parts—lower back, knees, and hips—would naturally return to a pain-free, healthy state.

What I forgot to take into that magic-wand thinking: I’m getting older. I thrive on moving my body daily. I still love to challenge myself regularly. Most importantly, my body, like yours, is human; I can’t think of one person who hasn’t had a frozen shoulder or a nervy neck or a knee issue at some point.

To be clear: I’m not in chronic pain anymore. Driving doesn’t agonize me, and neither does emptying the dishwasher. I’m pretty sure the half-full bottle of Advil in my bathroom cabinet has passed its expiration date. All big wins.

That said, I have sore knees. Like really sore knees. And I don’t have a solid diagnosis. Maybe they’re arthritic, maybe they’re overused, maybe they’re not functionally sound—probably a combo of the three. I feel them most when I go down the stairs, which doesn’t bode well for my upcoming hiking adventures this summer.

So I’ve been working with Kit Wren, a trainer/movement specialist, to focus on getting them more functional and less sore. Here are four things that, while not quite abracadabra-quality, have definitely brought relief. If your knees are not feeling spritely, I’d highly recommend trying them out.

#1: Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells

My glutes are a lot like my teenagers looking at their phones: you’ve got to YELL at them to get their attention. Romanian Deadlifts do that to my buns; as soon as I hinge at the hips and stick my booty back, all I can concentrate on is feeling those rear muscles working. Yay.

How they help my sore knees: The more my glutes, powerful though they may seem, actually kick into action, the more load they will carry. That means, of course, less work for my knees.

My routine: 3 sets x 8 reps, 3x a week; progressively working up to 100 pounds total.

#2: Releasing My Hamstrings

If my hamstrings were in a fairy tale, they’d be Cinderella before she went to the ball: all work and no recognition. They dutifully bow to the overpowering stepsisters, my quads, and never make a peep. Until my trainer showed me this simple but sly move—and then they chirped louder than a massive flock of bluebirds.

How they help my sore knees: By loosening up my hamstrings, which help stabilize and bend the knee, I’m also making space down the leg for less tightness.

My routine: These days, I foam roll/release six days a week (truly!), usually about 10 minutes at a time. To make sure I don’t neglect what I don’t see, I alternate days. One day, I’ll hit the front of my body: shins, quads, adductors; the next, I’ll do the back: glutes, calves, hamstrings.

#3: Yoga for Sensitive Knees

Any Yoga with Adriene video is pretty much a winner (hi, Benji the dog!), but this one? Sublime. The gentle positions she chooses, along with the way she narrates the asanas, transform my perspective on my knees: instead of two painful joints between my lower and upper legs, they are connected to the arches of my feet, my inner thighs, my pelvic floor. They—and I—feel supported.

How it helps my sore knees:  Besides the aforementioned mental perspective, the physical part just feels like magic. The morning after the first time I did the video, I was aware of how quiet my knees were as I walked down the stairs. I’ve done it two more times since then, and both times? The same result.

My routine: Once a week for the past three weeks.

#4: Working on Hip Extension

First, a disclaimer: my couch stretch looks nothing like this video, but I wanted to share the explanation from the source Kelly Starrett, a movement genius.

Kelly and his wife, Juliet Starrett wrote a soon-to-be-released book called Built to Move, and we were lucky enough to land the couple as guests on the Many Happy Miles podcast, which will be out this Tuesday, March 14. Receiving an advance copy, I immediately dove in. There are 10 habits the Starretts promote for optimal movement—tune into the podcast to get all the details—but for now, I’m focused on one that has helped my sore knees. It’s #3: Extend your Hips.

In that chapter, the intro reads, “[Hip extension] is an essential ingredient in good functional movement; it’s what helps you go up and down the stairs…without throbbing pain.” As I mentioned earlier, stairs are not my friend on most days—and I’m definitely not ready to move into a ranch.

How it helps my sore knees: By gently-ish guiding my body back to natural alignment, my knees also fall back in line. I also just love how the couch stretch feels like it puts my whole body back together with minimal effort.

My routine: I have been doing this a couple times a week, for just 2 weeks so far. I double up a yoga mat under my knee, and use a weight bench right now so I can control the angle more easily. I’ve tried the wall as well, but it’s a little too intense for me right now as I focus on the breath and glute activation, as shown in the video. They recommend 3 minutes a side, and I’m not sure I’ve done one full minute on either side yet. Baby steps.

Your turn: What do you do for sore knees?