Feeling weak in the knees is only a good thing when it’s over your latest Tinder date. Experiencing joint pain is an entirely different sensation—and one that’s not quite so magical.
Joint pain affects one in five Americans and is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S. Along with leg, neck, and back pain, knee pain tops the list of problem areas, according to James Rippe, M.D., a cardiologist and joint pain specialist. And we’re not getting better: A 2013 study reported a 162 percent increase in knee replacements over the last 20 years in people 65 and older .
So how do you know if you’re at risk? Factors like inactivity, carrying too much bodyweight, poor posture, improperly treated injuries, and insufficient nourishment can all contribute to knee pain, Rippe says. Luckily, by taking better care of your knees throughout your life, starting as early as your thirties, you can strengthen joints and potentially save yourself from years of daily pain and discomfort.
What You Can Do Now
One of the best things you can do for knee health is simply maintaining an active lifestyle. “Your joints thrive on movement,” Rippe says. “Always try to remember that some activity is better than no activity.” Rippe recommends low-impact activities, like swimming, brisk walking, or cycling, and considering taking health supplementsthat provide glucosamine and chondroitin to strengthen and lubricate knees.
On the flip side, too much movement can be hard on your joints. So if you’re one of those people who just can’t quit their HIIThabit or long-distance runs, there are some simple moves and stretches you can try that will help alleviate pain.
Since multiple muscles overlap the knee joint—including your calf, thigh, hamstrings, quadriceps, gastrocnemius, and soleus—and work together to flex, extend, and stabilize the knee, the exact source of pain isn’t always obvious. “This means you want to think about stretching all the tissues around the knees,” says Lauren Williams, a certified personal trainer and head coach at New York City’s athletic-based training studio Tone House.
Here, Williams shares six of the best (and simplest) moves that target all those muscle groups. Try to do these stretches after every workout to keep your knees healthy now and in the future.