There are several myths and misconceptions about exercising and knee pain. Some people say you should avoid any type of exercise at all if your knees are hurting. Others recommend a “walk it off” approach, suggesting you work through the pain. Which of the two approaches is correct, though?
The answer is: It’s complicated.
If you’ve just suffered a knee injury and it is swollen and inflamed, give it a bit of time (48 to 72 hours) before you attempt to exercise it. During that time, apply heat and ice in an alternating pattern. After that, however, your knee will be healed sufficiently to stand gentle, low-impact and low-intensity exercise.
You should always listen to your body, however. If the pain becomes too much, definitely don’t try to work through it. You may wind up making it worse.
You should also avoid any form of exercise that sees you putting a heavy weight load on your knees. Weight lifting with a knee injury, for instance, is a recipe for disaster. Anything that requires jumping is likewise a bad idea for anyone with a knee injury. The sudden stop at the end will put tremendous pressure on your knees, which can make an existing injury worse. This is called high-impact exercise.
On the other hand, there are a number of low-intensity exercises that don’t put excess weight on your knees and those are all fine. Squatting, for instance (without weights) is a fantastic way to gently exercise your knees and stretch the connecting ligaments, which will actually facilitate faster healing.
Another misconception is the notion that if you have arthritic knees, you shouldn’t exercise them. This is actually bad advice. If you neglect exercising your arthritic knees, they’ll actually get worse faster than they would if you do regular, low impact exercises. This is even if the act of doing so causes a moderate amount of pain.
The bottom line is, exercising with a sore knee is possible. That’s provided that you don’t do it immediately after an injury, you are mindful of what your body is telling you, and aware of the types of exercises you do.