Recently, I’ve had a few people, including my beautiful mother, ask me to get something up on the blog about working out when you’ve got joint pain or some other restriction. For some, either because of past injuries or their age, running and plyometric-type activities can be absolutely brutal on your knees/hips/ankles. Before I begin, let me be clear that I am not a doctor or physical trainer, I am just able to write from my experiences.
In the past, I’ve dealt with tight IT band issues (more on that below), which can cause anything from lower back to knee pain, and I’ve had to get creative with my workouts. It’s a lot harder than you’d think!
Here are some low-impact workout suggestions:
- Elliptical Machine for cardio: I tend to hate this machine. I feel like a weird baby gazelle, trying to be graceful, but looking like a fool. However, it is also deceivingly hard, depending on the setting you use. The movement of the machine is designed to be very low impact and is a great alternative to running or the treadmill.
- Cycling for cardio: Cycling actually hurts my knee, however in a lot of cases, cycling can be low-impact and can provide a fantastic cardio alternative to running or the elliptical. You can use a stationary bike for an even smoother ride. Or hit the great outdoors on a road bike. Mountain biking may not be such a great idea if you experience joint pain…
- Swimming for cardio: In all honesty, I don’t swim as a workout. Not because I don’t think it’s an absolutely fantastic exercise, but because I don’t want to drown. But swimming is about as good of a full-body workout as you can find. It provides both cardio and some strength training.
- Weight machines for strength training: Soreness, minor injuries and aches and pains don’t have to completely sideline you from getting in some weights. It’s a matter of listening to your body and adjusting the weight or type of machine you’re using. If you’re injured, I’d advise against most free weights because there is no margin for error. But take it slow, and stop immediately if something hurts. If you’re unsure, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, ask a doctor.
- No access to a gym? No problem: For cardio, try power walking. It is much lower impact than running, but is a really good way to get your heart pumping. For strength training, find some body-weight exercises that you can do while sitting or lying down. Here are a couple good ones: push-ups, crunches (many variations), donkey kicks, planks (many variations), dips with a bench, hip raises. Avoid anything with jumping because landing incorrectly could really do some damage.
Now, in a somewhat related note, back to my IT band issue. If you’re experiencing some pain in your joints or back, it could be that your IT band is too tight. Seek medical advice, and if they say it’s an IT band problem, then here are my fail-proof tricks to getting those suckers loosened up!
- Roll it out: If you’ve never used a roller, go buy one. It will be your worst enemy and best friend for life. Frenemies! I try to roll at least once a day, but when I’m injured, sometimes two times a day.
- Ice: Even if the cause of the pain is your IT band, still give the painful joints some lovin’ and care with a few rounds of ice per day. Definitely ice it after a workout. Icing should be a somewhat unpleasant experience, unfortunately. So if you’re wrapping a bag of pees up in a towel, it’s not really going to help. You only need a very thin layer between the ice/pees and your skin.
- Advil: I am not big into medicines, but I am a firm believer that swelling should be dealt with quickly. If I am experiencing joint pain and swelling, I usually take a couple Advil after a workout (along with my ice) to help relieve swelling.
- This one amazing IT band stretch: A friend of mine, and trainer for professional athletes, taught me a life-changing IT band stretch that I do after every run or leg workout, regardless of if I am experiencing any pain. You sit down, lean back so that your weight is on your arms, bend you knees, pick up one foot and put it on the outside of the opposite leg, then use your foot to pull that opposite leg across your body. Keep adjusting the angles until you feel the stretch on the outside of your leg. It won’t feel good, so if it hurts on your IT band, you’ve probably got the spot!
Best of luck, fellow joint pain friends. No excuses, get on out there!