Office workers often complain of back, shoulder and neck pain. Without a doubt, these are some of the more common problem areas for the average person who spends hours sat a desk all day. However, there is one more part of the body that can cause pain and stiffness – the knee.
Although knee pain is a less frequent complaint, it is a problem that can severely affect quality of life. Not only is it uncomfortable, but many cases of knee pain can be persistent and difficult to resolve.
How to avoid office knee pain
1. Stay active
This is the simplest but also possibly the most effective way to ease knee pain or prevent getting it in the first place. Avoid sitting still in one position for long periods of time. Take a break from work at least once every hour; the more frequent, the better. During these breaks, get up from your chair to ease the pressure on your knees. Do some knee exercises (we have suggested a few below) or just take a walk around your office.
2. Adjust your office chair
The chair you sit in can affect the amount of pressure being put on your knees. “One size fits all” office chairs are generally not the best solution. As different people are of different heights, leg length also tends to vary between individuals. Therefore, getting an ergonomic chair that allows you to adjust the height of the seat, at the very least, goes a long way in promoting better posture.
Ideally, while sitting in your chair, you should be able to plant your feet comfortably on the ground without having to bend your knees excessively. Your knees should be roughly in line with your hips, and your back should be straight and well supported by the chair.
Apart from having an adjustable height, wheels or casters is a great feature to have on a chair. Being able to easily swivel away from your desk will give you enough space to conveniently stretch your legs.
3. Get a footrest
Sometimes, it is can be difficult to adjust your chair in such a way that your knees are supported while still being able to work comfortably. This is especially true if your monitor is fixed at a higher position or if your keyboard is placed on a tall, non-adjustable workstation.
In these situations, an alternative solution is to bring the floor close to your feet using a footrest. You don’t even have to go out there and purchase a fancy footrest if cost is a concern. Simply stack up books to the correct height or use a stool to elevate your feet.
4. Add a standing mat
If you have a standing desk, great! You are already much closer towards having an ergonomic office set up that is healthier for your body.
However, standing for prolonged periods can just be as strenuous as sitting for a long time, especially on the knee joints. Compared to standing on a hard floor, a standing mat will make standing much more comfortable and it will reduce the pressure placed on your feet, ankles, knees, and lower back. To go one step further, consider getting yourself an active standing mat, such as the ones outlined here. These come with a variety of fixtures, bumps and ridges to further encourage movement while standing.
5. Avoid kneeling too frequently
Apart from sitting, kneeling frequently can also be hard on your knees. Are there files on the floor of your workspace? Is the other equipment you often use placed closer to the ground? Consider moving them higher up on shelves or the table, so you don’t have to get on your knees to access these things.
6. Knee exercises
Here are 3 knee exercises that you can do without having to leave your chair. For more exercises that are meant to strengthen the muscles supporting your knee, check out the Arthritis Research UK site.
Sitting leg raise
Roll your chair back to have a safe distance from the desk or any equipment. Sit comfortably in the chair with a supported back for good posture. Then, straighten one leg to raise it off the floor. Hold for a few counts before releasing. Repeat this move on the other leg.
Sitting to standing
Move your chair back to get enough space to stand comfortably. Then, stand up slowly without using your hands for support. As you transition from sitting to standing, move in a slow and controlled manner. Sit back down and repeat.
To do this exercise, raise both legs off the ground while seated on your chair. Cross your ankles. Pull your top leg backwards and push your bottom leg forwards. You should feel your thigh muscles engage. Hold for 10 seconds, and then relax. For safety reasons, only do this in a stable chair, or better still off the edge of a bed or table.
7. Stretch your quads
The quadriceps is a group of muscles on the front of your thigh that consists of four different muscles. It plays a major role in keeping your knee joint pain free, as the kneecap (patella) is kept in place by your quads.
A classic quadriceps stretch is not difficult to do. First, start in a neutral standing position. Grab your foot and bend your knee to bring your foot towards the buttock of the same leg. While doing this, keep your hips square and pointing forwards. Be sure to keep your knees together and avoid bending from the lower back to engage the right muscles.
If done correctly, you should feel the stretch on the front of your thigh. For extra stability, you can hold on to a table or the back of a chair.
8. Maintain a healthy body weight
Several articles have linked obesity with a higher risk for knee pain. Not only is a high BMI bad for your cardiovascular health, it also places extra stress on your joints, including your knee joints.
Studies have found that knee pain is more common in people with a higher BMI. Therefore, maintaining your body weight within a healthy limit would go far in helping to reduce knee pain, both at the office and outside of it after work.
The knee joint anatomy
The knee is a weight-bearing joint consisting of the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), and the kneecap or the patella. The patella is a small triangular bone that is located in front of the knee and it is kept in place by the quadriceps muscle. As it is not directly attached to the other bones of the knee joint, the kneecap is quite prone to being out of alignment.
Knee pain causes
One of the most common causes of knee pain is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as runner’s knee. But despite its popular name, you may experience this pain even if you are not a runner.
In fact, another name for this condition is “movie-goer’s knee“. This is because the pain is also brought on by long periods of sitting, such as when watching a movie. People who have this kind of knee pain will often find themselves sticking their leg out into the aisle to take pressure off the kneecap and ease the discomfort.
The pain is typically experienced around the kneecap and behind it. It tends to feel worse after long periods of sitting and physical activity especially activities that need you to bend your knees such as stair climbing or walking uphill.
If your job has you sitting still for long periods of time, you may be prone to this type of knee pain. It is common enough among office workers that it has even been referred to as office knee. Prolonged sitting in awkward postures that place excessive stress on your knee joint, such as in badly designed office workstations, can make this condition even worse.
There are certain steps you can take to prevent or reduce office knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome. We have outlined several of these in the above list, specifically for people working in an office or just sitting all day. If you already have knee pain, some of the suggestions above may help reduce it.
We hope the tips above help you enhance your knee health. After all, it is important to take good care of your knees. They play a major role in almost all body movements, from running, sitting, to everything in between. Having flexible and strong knees will go a long way towards ensuring a future where you can move freely without pain.
Dr. Praveena Asokan, MBChB has a background in medicine, having graduated from the University of Leicester before working in various hospitals. Her additional experience as a medical researcher helped her transition to a career as a writer, and she now enjoys researching and writing on a number of health-related topics.