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The Best Foam Rolling Exercises for Knee Pain, Expert Says

If you suffer from knee pain, these exercises can help relieve the discomfort.

If you suffer from bad knees, we have a great technique that can be extremely beneficial to alleviate your pain and discomfort—perhaps even life-changing. We spoke with Dr. Mike Bohl, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a certified personal trainer, and have the absolute best foam rolling exercises for knee pain. So grab your foam roller, and read on to learn all about them.

Here's what to know about knee pain.

senior man dealing with knee pain while exercising outdoors

Don't be discouraged about your pain, because you are not alone. Knee pain is extremely common in the United States, having doubled in the past 82 years or so. In fact, approximately 20% of Americans over 45 years of age deal with osteoarthritis in their knees, which is the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, according to Science.

Dominic King, a sports medicine physician and director of clinical transformation at Cleveland Clinic's Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute, puts it this way: "As we age, the one thing we can't change is the amount of time we've had on our joints. So at 55, you have 55-year-old knees." So what do you do about it? Well, AARP reports that it's important to keep leading an active lifestyle and build up strength in the muscles that surround your joints to alleviate pressure. It's also necessary to eat wisely and keep up a healthy weight; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 44.3% of adults in this country aged 40 to 59 suffer from obesity, and 41.5% of those who are 60 and up, which puts added stress on the knee joints.

Be sure to drink lots of water, as H20 keeps your cartilage healthy. And last but not least, consider trying some of the best foam rolling exercises for knee pain to help soothe your discomfort.

Related: The Best Exercises To Relieve Knee Pain, Trainer Says

Foam rolling exercises can offer extraordinary pain relief.

foam roller gym

If you've never worked with a foam roller before, there are many benefits to incorporating one into your exercise routine. According to Ace Fitness, foam rollers are helpful in enhancing the length of your muscles and decreasing tension. They can lessen soreness and encourage the recovery process, lower your chances of adhesions, and improve the range of motion in your joints. The pressure you experience when using a foam roller can also boost blood flow and raise the heat in the tissue you're working on.

These qualities make foam rollers an effective warm-up tool before working out, in addition to relaxing and recovering afterward. Also known as self-myofascial release (SMR), foam rollers are used more and more in workouts.

Related: The Best Foam Rolling Exercises for Lower Back Pain, MD Says

Most knee pain is usually caused by bone and cartilage problems inside the knee joint.

close-up knee pain

Dr. Bohl discusses the extraordinary pain-relieving benefits of using a foam roller when it comes to knee pain. This type of pain is typically caused by "issues of the bone and cartilage inside the knee joint," like arthritis. Knee arthritis occurs when the cartilage in your knee joint gets inflamed and wares away (via John Hopkins Medicine). Cartilage is what helps your knees straighten and bend easily. This slippery-coated "cushion," as John Hopkins Medicine calls it, can be found on the end of the femur (your thighbone), top of the tibia (shinbone), and behind the patella (kneecap). As cartilage starts to deteriorate, the area narrows between the bones. When arthritis becomes really bad, your bones rub on each another, and bone spurs can be formed (bumps on the bone).

Unfortunately, Dr. Bohl tells us that foam rolling won't repair these problems. But by foam rolling specific muscles of the lower leg and thigh, you can help your muscles relax. In some cases, this exercise may help alleviate the pain you have in your knees.

Here's where to begin with your foam roller for knee pain.

man rolling out thigh performing foam rolling exercises for knee pain

When it comes to where to start, Dr. Bohl explains the effectiveness of foam rolling the muscles on the front of your thighs (quadriceps), the tiny muscles on the outer thigh areas (TFL muscles), and the outside muscles of the lower legs (tibialis anterior and peroneus muscles).

Dr. Bohl warns, "When doing foam rolling exercises for knee pain, it's important not to use the foam roller over the knee joint itself … Foam rolling is meant for muscles, and putting that much pressure on the joint could make matters worse." He adds, "You also shouldn't do foam rolling exercises directly over the IT band, as this can potentially make an inflamed IT band even worse." Dr. Bohl advises performing rolling exercises that target the muscles around the knee, including the muscles of the thigh and lower leg.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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