If you’ve suffered from a knee injury or general pain while exercising, you might be wondering how to protect knees on an elliptical. Although it’s a less impactful exercise than running, your knees are still doing a lot of work and can be prone to injury.
In this article, we’ll look at how to protect your knees on an elliptical. Before that, let’s look at some of the common causes for knee pain and injury because understanding them can help us prevent them more effectively.
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What Causes Knee Pain on an Elliptical?
Although the best elliptical machines are low impact, there’s always a chance of injury or just general pain. In theory, you should be able to identify your cause from the following list. If not, and the solutions don’t really help, consider speaking to a doctor.
So, here are some of the most common causes for knee pain on an elliptical.
If you’re new to exercising on an elliptical, this could be the most likely cause. Like all workout machines, proper posture is key to getting the most from an elliptical. After all, if you put more weight on one leg than the other, or don’t move them correctly, you’re increasing your risk of injury.
We’ll go over some details for proper elliptical use below. However, one of the best solutions for correcting your exercise posture is to use a personal trainer, as they can give you specific feedback about what you’re doing wrong.
Over- or Under-worked Joints
Another issue is that you could be overworking yourself by exercising for too long. Alternatively, the opposite could be true: you’re new to regular exercise and so don’t have decent levels of flexibility.
Both issues are fairly easy to solve, though. You just need to adjust the amount of exercise you’re doing on the elliptical until your body gets used to it (or recovers).
Being overweight increases your chances of knee injury and pain, simply because they’re put under more strain. Of course, using an elliptical does ease this slightly because it lessens the impact of stepping, but it’s still worth noting.
Similarly, older individuals are more prone to knee pain for a few reasons. First, the knees have been working for longer and second, the cartilage wears down over time. This can make walking painful and increase the risk of injury.
Previous Knee Injury
Perhaps one of the more obvious causes of knee pain when using an elliptical is a previous knee injury. While these generally heal with time, most people will tell you that they never truly go away. As such, it’s worth being proactive to stop them from happening while using an elliptical.
Other Medical Conditions
There are some other medical conditions that could lead to knee pain when using an elliptical machine. These include:
If you suffer from these or other medical conditions that cause pain, consider speaking to a medical or fitness professional before even starting on an elliptical.
Why Do My Knees Hurt on an Elliptical?
If your knees hurt when on an elliptical, there’s usually a common reason for it. You should be able to self-diagnose most issues because they’re based on age, weight, and fitness levels. Of course, if you’re unsure, go to a doctor.
The most important thing to do if you experience knee pain when using an elliptical is to stop. It can be tempting to work through the pain as a sign of exercise, but this will increase your risk of injury.
Instead, get off the machine and have a sit down until the pain reduces. You could try using a cold compress or ice pack, too.
Does Elliptical Strengthen Knees?
Using an elliptical trainer does strengthen your knees, providing you use it properly. It can increase blood flow to your knee’s cartilage while also improving the muscles around the joint. Together, these make your knee stronger and less prone to pain or injury.
Of course, you’ll need to work up to full exercises gradually if you’re new to elliptical trainers. It can be tempting to jump in at the deep end, but your body needs to get used to exercising, which includes dedicated recovery time.
One of the main reasons why an elliptical strengthens your knees is because it’s low-impact exercise. But what does this mean?
Simply put, low impact exercise involves not making direct contact with the ground with your feet. Instead, you use pedals or other components to reduce the impact that travels through your feet and legs.
For example, running is a high-impact exercise. Your feet make contact with the ground, and your joints absorb the shock this creates. On an elliptical, however, your feet are pressing into the pedals, meaning they have a level of support when moving through the walking motion.
Not only does this strengthen your knees by reducing impact, it also helps reduce the chances of injury because your feet are directed and prevented from twisting. All this keeps your joints healthier than if you engaged purely in high-impact exercise.
How to Protect Your Knees on an Elliptical
Now that we’ve covered why you might be experiencing knee pain when using an elliptical, we can look at what you can do to prevent it. Most of these solutions are universal regardless of the cause of your knee pain, so don’t be afraid to try them out to see what works.
1. Warm up
The first thing you should always do before exercising is warm up. This can be as simple as stretching or can be more involved, such as marching. A good option for knee pain is to do knee lifts.
To do a knee lift, stand straight and raise one knee at a time. Touch it with your opposite hand and then repeat on the other side. Ensure your torso and back remain straight throughout the exercise. Aim to do around 30 in 30 seconds.
You could also try some squats, shoulder rolls, and heel digs. The point of warming up is to not do anything too intense but to increase blood flow to the parts of your body you’ll be exercising.
2. Warm down
Similarly, you should always do a post-workout warm down. It drastically decreases your risk of injury and can help calm overstressed muscles.
Your warm down should be as equally relaxed as your warm up. Some light stretching should be fine, focusing on your leg muscles when using an elliptical.
3. Ensure your posture is correct
As mentioned, proper posture is vital when exercising. Not only does it ensure the correct muscles are worked but it also reduces your risk of injury. So, what does proper posture look like when using an elliptical trainer?
Most importantly, keep your back and torso straight. You’re using your arms and legs on an elliptical, so your back shouldn’t be twisting and turning all over the place. Although we’re focusing on knees, keeping your back straight will affect everything else.
Next, distribute your weight equally over both feet but keep it focused on the lower half of your body. The easiest way to do this is to bend your knees as if you’re going into a squat.
Make sure you’re not gripping onto the handles too hard, as this can impact the rest of your posture. If you can’t reach them easily, just let go. Doing so will give your core a much stronger workout.
Finally, keep your feet flat and try to focus your weight on your heels rather than your toes. This will also stop your feet from tingling.
4. Use a knee brace
Perhaps one of the most obvious ways to control knee pain is by wearing a knee brace. You’ve probably seen athletes use these. There are different types that use different materials and provide various levels of support.
For an elliptical, you’ll want either a motion control brace or an unloader brace. A motion control brace simply stabilises your knee joint to stop it rolling or causing injury. They’re usually made from neoprene and feel pretty snug.
An unloader brace helps take some pressure and weight off your knee, so is typically used for inflammatory conditions like arthritis. They don’t protect your knee from injury, as such, but are more for improving comfort if inflammation is an issue.
5. Don’t overwork yourself
Unsurprisingly, not overusing an elliptical trainer is a good way of preventing knee pain and injury. This is true for both previous injuries and lack of practice. Either way, starting small and building up to longer workouts is a good idea.
There are different ways to do this. The first is to do numerous short workouts with breaks in between. For example, you could do 6 x 10-minute sessions on an elliptical with a little sit down between each.
Alternatively, you could do longer workouts that are less intense just to get your legs used to working out. As you get fitter, you could then increase the resistance or workout time to feel like you’re getting something from it.
6. Eat right
Eating the right foods should help reduce knee pain in general, not just when you’re using an elliptical trainer. If you’re into exercise, the following information shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s worth going over.
Omega-3 is a good one for joint health and plenty of other areas of the body. You can find it in fish, nuts, seeds, and plenty of other foods. If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough, consider taking a supplement.
Plenty of fruit and vegetables contain anti-inflammatories, along with fibre and plenty of vitamins. Some good choices include blueberries, apples, tomatoes, pineapple, and brassicas (e.g. broccoli, kale, mustard greens).
The same is true for beans, lentils, onions, and garlic. All these contain anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, so are worth fitting into your diet if knee pain is a concern. It really shouldn’t be difficult for you to control inflammation and knee pain with the right diet, as there are effective components in plenty readily-available foods.
Final Thoughts on Knee Pain from Elliptical Trainers
Hopefully, you’ve now got enough information to protect your knees on an elliptical trainer. Unsurprisingly, the best protection is prevention. As such, eating right and taking care with your exercises will do wonders for knee pain.
That said, if you have any concerns, make sure you speak to a doctor or fitness professional, as even the most comprehensive online guide is incomparable to expert advice!