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How to Not Hurt Knees on an Elliptical

By Becky Sheetz-Runkle

Elliptical trainers are commonly recommended for people who have knee pain or are prone to knee pain. Elliptical workouts are among the exercises recommended by Harvard Health for the low-impact effect on your joints. If you don’t have knee pain, an elliptical can help you keep those joints in top shape. But if you have knee injuries, you may want to be cautious about jumping on the elliptical.

Step 1

Talk with your doctor if you have knee pain. For a knee condition or injury, rest may be a better option than working out on the elliptical. If your doctor does clear you for training, he might recommend anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain, orthotics for your shoes or physical therapy to help alleviate or avoid pain.

Step 2

Choose an elliptical with adjustable stride length. Pedals with a short stride may cause you to flex your knees and cause knee pain and ligament strain. A too-long stride could cause hypertension and pain in the backs of your knees. Adjust the machine to your height and experiment with the adjustments until you find a stride that is the right length for you.

Step 3

Try varying your heel position. If you experience pain when you keep the heel fixed to the pedal, raising the heel slightly will cause you to pivot on the ball of the foot and may decrease stress on the knee. Conversely, if you have knee pain with the heel raised, keeping the heel fixed may help by changing body mechanics and knee alignment.

Step 4

Avoid straightening your legs completely. This rule applies to exercise bikes and stair climbers as well as elliptical trainers. Your legs should never lock.

Step 5

Avoid consecutive days if you’re prone to repetitive stress injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome or hip bursitis. Take at least one day off between elliptical workouts to avoid nagging injuries. If you’re a runner, you may want to avoid running and using the elliptical machine on consecutive days as well.

Step 6

Listen to your body the day after a workout. If you’re new to the elliptical or are using a different model, you may experience some knee aches the next day. These should be temporary. But if they persist, this is not normal, and you should consult with your doctor about making changes.

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