Knee pain and exercise: Yes or no?

Image of a painful knee

Ow, my knee HURTS! How am I ever going to exercise?

Got knee pain? Are you asking yourself “Can I exercise with knee pain?”

I’ve got good news for you:

YES! You absolutely can exercise with knee pain – in fact, you should!

Now, before you go and say “whoa, this is crazy”, let me clarify: You SHOULD exercise with knee pain. HOW you should exercise with knee pain, however, differs vastly depending on WHY your knee hurts in the first place.

The good news is that in private Pilates sessions, we can create a program that works for you, no matter what the reason for your knee pain.

But let’s get back to the why:

Your knees are just achy – no idea why

While you may want to back off high-impact exercise, some mobilization might actually be good for you. Why? Well, there are lots of reasons, but here are just three:

1. When you’re in pain, your small muscles tend to seize up. This adds to the pain. Loosening them up helps.

2. Moving your joints through the full range of motion available lubricates them, which also relieves pain.

3. Your knee pain could be caused by structural issues, such as weak feet. Working on realigning and strengthening your structures will definitely help in that case!

You have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis

Here, you definitely should be extra-careful with overloading the joints, but it IS important that you take them through the full range of motion – every day, if you can! With RA, you also want to be careful not to overdo it – but with both conditions, it’s move it or lose it. You just have to do the “moving” the right way.

In carefully structured Pilates sessions, I can and will show you how to do so safely.

You’ve injured your knee

No matter how, why or when you got your knee injury, you will want to have that checked out by a medical professional. Depending on the diagnosis, one of two approaches will apply:

a) Avoid working out the knee, but exercise the rest of your body. (Hint: Pilates is PERFECT for this! We can target all sorts of things until you’re cleared to start exercising that knee. And once you are, we can ramp it up carefully so you wind up with stronger knees than before in the long run!)

b) Carefully work on strengthening the knee and the tissues that surround it.

You need knee surgery

Guess what – Pilates is perfect for this, as well! Seriously. We can work to carefully strengthen (notice a pattern there?!) the knee and the surrounding tissue. This will help in the run-up to surgery and also help you bounce back quickly.

You’ve just had knee surgery

Yes, even now, you should exercise! (In fact, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends starting to exercise the knee the day after total knee replacement surgery!) Again, two approaches:

  1. You’ve been cleared to start walking and exercising the knee (i.e. released from physical therapy or your PT is willing to work hand in hand with me): We can – you guessed it – work to carefully strengthen and mobilize the knee.
  2. You haven’t been cleared yet: We can work against the cabin fever and work out all the rest of you – because Pilates lets you really target and isolate areas as well as providing full-body conditioning.

So if your knee hurts, there’s no need to sit there and pine: We can definitely work you out!

See you in the studio! Call or message to book your session and you’ll be “up and running” again in no time flat!


Gardening: Good for the soul, hard on the back

Seed grows into a plant

Aaaaah, spring! There’s nothing like it – especially here in Tennessee, where nature virtually explodes in a sea of color.

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get outdoors to enjoy all that lushness … and get your hands dirty. After all, gardening is one of the best ways to connect with the soil, the land and your soul. This is true whether you’ve got organic gardening down to a science, love sprucing up the yard with some beautiful blooms or just want to grow a few tomatoes and herbs.

Unfortunately, our bodies are not always on board with this newfound enthusiasm, especially after a long winter. For all its benefits, gardening is one of the leading causes of lower back pain.

Luckily, it’s easy to stack the odds of surviving the season unscathed in your favor.

Here’s how you to tackle all your gardening chores:


The warm-up


Warming up for gardening? What?!

Think about it: You warm up for your workout for good reason. The same applies to working outdoors: Jumping straight into gardening without warming up is asking for trouble. Try a few of these simple, gentle Pilates- and Yoga-inspired movements:

  • Pelvic curl/pelvic clock
  • Bent knee openings
  • Rolldown
  • Rollup
  • Cat/Cow
  • Swan prep
  • Spine twist
  • Child’s pose


While gardening

Person holding soil in hands

Before I get into all the details, there is one rule I want you to follow: If your back starts to ache at any time, LISTEN. Stop. Stretch.

Maybe you need to lay off it for an hour or two or for the day. That’s fine. Your garden will still be there when you return.


Here are a few dos and don’ts for the most common moves.


Shoveling, Hoeing and Raking



  • Keep your back as neutral as possible.
  • Bend at the hips rather than at the back.
  • Use your legs!


  • Excessively round your back.
  • Overload the shovel.
  • Reach excessively far.
  • Twist or round the back excessively with a load.


Picking up and carrying


Whether you’re picking up a heavy bag of organic soil or lugging that huge planter around the deck, do yourself a favor and use this technique:

  1. Stand in front of the object you want to pick up.
  2. Squat down as deeply as you can next to it.
  3. Grasp and hold it as close to your body as possible.
  4. Use the strength of your legs to push up into a standing position (this is where all the squatting you did this winter at the gym and all the Pilates footwork comes in handy).
  5. Walk over to the spot you need it to go.
  6. Now reverse the motion: Keep holding the object close, squat down as low as you can and gently place it on the ground. (If you don’t mind the bag of soil being split open, you can also just drop it on the garden bed, of course!)


Planting … and weeding

Woman squatting while planting a garden

You may have heard this advice before … and disregarded it like I have. Not a good idea. (Right?! Been there, done that, suffered the consquences!)

Make a pact with yourself to follow through this time and your back will thank you for it: Instead of stooping down with a rounded back and straight legs, do one of these two things:

  • Squat deeply and STAY THERE (butt down!) while weeding. Yes, that is hard on the legs – you can probably skip the heavy squats at the gym today! Good work! – To move to another area, simply stand up and repeat. (Advanced movement people can also “duck-walk” over, but that requires some serious leg strength, hip/ankle mobility and coordination! Try it sometime!)
  • Sit or kneel to plant/weed. Since that can be uncomfortable, help your body out by sitting or kneeling on something. There are lots of benches, knee pads and what have you available for purchase. You can also use a low box or an old yoga block to sit on. And try using an old yoga/pilates mat (fold to make it thicker!) or a kitchen or standing desk mat to kneel on more comfortably.


When the work is done

Rows of lettuce

Behold your gorgeous garden! Congratulations, that was a LOT of work!

Your soul is full of joy and your body is … probably a bit achy. A few targeted moves before you let your exhausted self sink into that couch are in order. Don’t worry, we’re not talking exertion here, just some nice, relaxing yoga poses.

  • Slow cat/cow stretches
  • Knees to chest pose (Apanasana) – while you’re here, draw some circles on the floor with your back. Aaaah!
  • “Windshield wipers” – resting on your back, arms at a T, feet planted wider than hip width, let both knees drop to one side, turning the head to the other, reverse
  • Child’s pose (Balasana)
  • Thread the needle (Parsva balasana)
  • Legs up the wall pose (Viparita karani)


Happy gardening! Let me know how it goes!

If you want to receive more helpful posts like this one, go ahead and subscribe to the blog – I update about once or twice a month. And if all that movement has you motivated to do more, schedule a Pilates session to keep your back healthy and yourself happy all season long!

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