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How to Strengthen Knee Ligaments: Stretches & Injury Prevention Tips

strengthen knee ligament for injury prevention

Repetitious endurance sports come with their fair share of difficulties and one that is all too familiar for most athletes is the dreaded knee pain. Simply put, most endurance sports involve high stress put on the knees, particularly any sports that involve running and cycling

A lot of weight and stress is put on your knee joints and this can result in damage. This impact is made worse by bad technique and general lack of experience but even the very best suffer from knee pain and knee-related injuries.

Overall, 41% of sports-related injuries are knee-based with 20% related to the ACL. Those with prior experience of knee injuries or with particular knee conditions such as arthritis will often be discouraged from running and other high-intensity activities as these can inflame or worsen the knee’s condition. 

However, running and cycling done in the right quantities can be incredibly useful in strengthening our knee’s ability to withstand heavy stress so ensuring a consistent pattern of exercise will do you a lot of good in ensuring that you reduce the chances of knee pain and common injuries surrounding the knee.


Preventing Knee Injuries: a Primer

So, how can one maximize the advantages of running while still preventing injuries? The majority of “injuries” that runners have are actually overuse injuries that affect the tendons that attach different muscles to the bones in the knee joint. 

For instance, “Runner’s knee,” an inflammation of the substantial band of tissue that serves as the knee joint’s stabilizing framework. This and inflammation of the patellar tendon are the two issues that runners encounter most frequently. The internal joint structures may also be affected by less frequent issues.

The most common and popular way to strengthen your knee ligaments is by simply exercising frequently and by employing regular stretching in your daily routine. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the most effective exercises you can do to reduce knee pain as well as look at other ways you can improve your knee strength. These stretches and exercises are designed to be accessible for as many people as possible but if you have a serious injury or knee problem, it’s worth consulting your GP or consultant first to make sure you won’t end up worsening the problem or hurting yourself. 


5 Key Stretches & Exercises for Healthy Knees

One of the best ways to strengthen the ligaments in your knee is to simply keep them moving and keep them loose. Tense ligaments mean that they are more likely to tear or be damaged under stress and the common ACL tear becomes even more dangerous. Below are some good stretches to help strengthen your knee and some more general stretching advice to ensure you are maximizing your stretching and not doing more harm than good.

Before performing these stretches, warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of light, low-impact activity or you can stretch after a workout. Keep your stretches gentle and slow and if you start to feel pain, stop. The whole point is to release stress so if you are feeling pain, it’s a sign that you are actually doing harm to your ligaments. Don’t bounce during the stretches and make sure to maintain consistent breathing throughout your stretches. 

1. Standing Calf Stretch

  1. Stand placing hands on the wall for support. Place your feet pointing straight ahead, with the involved foot in the back of the other. The back leg should have a straight knee and the front leg a bent knee. 
  2. Shift forward, keeping the back leg heel on the ground, so that you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of the back leg.
  3. Hold 45 seconds.
  4. Switch legs and repeat. Do this 2-3 times per leg.

2. Quad Stretch

If you are doing these stretches with an injured knee, you can do the same process lying down.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grab your left ankle with your left hand and pull it toward your hip. You should feel the stretch in your left quad.
  3. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Switch sides and repeat.

3. Hamstring Stretch

For this stretch and others lying down, an exercise mat can be used to add cushioning under your back.

  1. Lie down on the floor and straighten both legs. Or, you can bend both knees with your feet flat on the floor if this is more comfortable for you.
  2. Lift one leg off the floor.
  3. Place your hands just below the knee, on your thigh, and gently pull your knee toward your chest until you feel a slight stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. If you start to feel pain at any point, stop.
  5. Lower and change legs.
  6. Repeat 2 times on each side.

4. Standing Hamstring Stretch

If the other hamstring stretch was too difficult or caused you pain, try this one. It’s easier and less likely to cause pain.

  1. Stand on your right foot with your left foot in front of you, heel on the floor, toes up.
  2.  Hinge forward at your hips and bend your right knee as you sit back a bit.
  3. As you bend your right leg, keep your left leg completely straight with your weight on the edge of your heel. 
  4. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

5. Half Squat

  1. Get into a standing squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place your hands on your hips or out in front of you for balance.
  3. Look straight ahead and slowly squat down about 10 inches. This is the halfway point to a full squat.
  4. Pause for a few seconds, then stand up by pushing through your heels.
  5. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.


Nutrition Advice for Stronger Knees

As with all things exercise, your diet and nutritional intake will have a big impact on keeping your knee ligaments in good condition during long training runs and sessions. Ligaments are made up of collagen so obviously eating a lot of collagen-boosting foods as part of your recovery post-run will be supportive. Foods and minerals such as :

  • Manganese – nuts, legumes, seeds, whole grains, leafy green veggies
  • Omega-3 – salmon, mackerel, basically fish
  • Vitamin A – liver, veg such as carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, greens such as kale and spinach
  • Vitamin C – fruits and berries such as guava, blackcurrant, kiwi, orange, lemon, strawberries, papaya, pineapple, grapefruit
  • Sulfur – cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, turnips, brussel sprouts, bok choy), allium veggies (garlic, onion, leeks, chives), eggs, fish, poultry

Protein is also important as it helps with muscle recovery so it can be useful to reduce the strain on the ligaments. Along with other endurance supplements for performance and recovery, it is just important to include protein in your recovery nutrition plan, like a good protein powder


Use Swimming as a Low-Impact Alternative

As mentioned above, exercise can be a great way to strength train your knee ligaments, and many people find that swimming is a great way to do exercise without hurting your knees. While this isn’t necessarily true and you can certainly do damage to your knees while swimming, swimming does have a lot of benefits :

  • When you swim, the buoyancy of the water supports your weight, which means your joints are under less stress and you may experience less pain.
  • Many people find that swimming is a safe approach to engage in strenuous exercise. The warmth of the water may also help to calm your joints and reduce pain if you swim in it. 
  • Regular swimming will help the muscles supporting your knees grow, increasing the structure of the joint. This can not only lessen current discomfort but also lower the likelihood of future discomfort.
  • Swimming is a wonderful cardiovascular workout that can aid in weight loss, fitness, and calorie burning. One of the finest things you can do to lessen knee pain is to lose weight. According to one study, the pressure on the knee joint is reduced by four pounds for every pound of weight eliminated.


Seeking the Support of a Specialist

At the end of the day, you could do everything right and still end up with pain and discomfort after a long run or bout of exercise. While everything listed here should help you with knee strengthening and reduce the chances of knee injuries, there could still be issues while running

If you come into discomfort and can’t easily identify what might be causing it, it is best to seek the help of a professional knee consultant. There’s nothing worse than putting in the effort for a triathlon training camp and potentially ending up hurting yourself and wasting all of that time and energy if you continue to train, you could end up exacerbating the injury and causing yourself more problems down the line. 

A knee specialist or coach who is adept in injury rehab is better equipped to help you identify the issue and potentially get you support or surgery if required. It may be something as simple as planting your foot wrong but as leading knee consultant Dr. Owen Wall stated : 

‘Being provided with an expert opinion and diagnosis can go a long way to helping you understand why you may have developed the issues and what methods you can undertake to correct the underlying causes and help treat the current problems.’

Sometimes, you just aren’t going to be aware of an issue until you seek outside guidance and support. As human beings, we can only see so much and we tend to ignore our own bad habits or write off our own pain as insignificant. Seeking the help of a professional allows you to get a more accurate picture of your problems and can give you actionable advice which can help perform better in the long run.

Hopefully, this advice and these general tips will help you to strengthen your ligaments and reduce the level of your discomfort while exercising or taking part in events. Knee pain will still be a problem at times but taking the right measures can really help make all the difference to you and your level of performance. If you do find that you are having persistent issues with your knees, make sure you seek help and guidance from an expert who can diagnose, treat and help you return to an active lifestyle as quickly as possible.

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Tyler Tafelsky Gravel Cyclist
Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler