Exercising with limited movement

knee brace

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t do lunges, squats, or burpees.* So I can’t do most dance-based exercise or aerobics or standard-issue calisthenics that involve things like jumping jacks. What are folks like us to do? Those of us who are barred from popular exercise forms by something a little bigger than a lack of willpower? I can’t advise everybody, but here’s what I have learned after a lifetime of recurring pain and increasingly limited mobility.

There’s always Pilates. Pilates is good stuff. It doesn’t require any equipment. It is soothing, like yoga, but without the pesky cultural appropriation issues (please Google if confused). It is mainly performed laying down but can be easily adapted to work from a seated position. It is just about as low impact as you can possibly get. Pilates tends to focus on the core, on breathing and proper alignment and smooth motion. The goal is long, lean, supple muscle. And yes, you can totally work up a sweat doing Pilates.

When I’m having a really bad time of it with my knees and I can’t even get into the standard starting position of the Pilates DVD I work with, but I still want to work out, I do Jessica Smith’s chair workout, modifying as necessary. (There are times, when I’ve overdone it in the garden or foolishly tried to clean or do home improvement without kneepads, when the simple leg movements in this video are too much, too, and I simply skip them while continuing to flail my upper body.) Jessica Smith’s YouTube channel has tons of fun, no-equipment, low-impact workouts.

FitnessBlender is another great YouTube channel with hundreds of videos at varying impact and intensity levels. I do a lot of their stretching routines for cool downs.

Incidentally, the Pilates DVD I use is Kristin McGee’s Pilates for Beginners. I have been using this video for years and, miraculously, I have tired of neither the music nor Ms. McGee’s voice, which is a fucking miracle, as anyone with experience using fitness DVDs will know. I found it by checking out every Pilates DVD the library had available, weeding out the ones that angered me or just didn’t motivate me. This was the clear winner, so I bought a copy online.

If you have advice on how to work out around a mobility issue and how to keep it fun (and cheap) please please please comment below.

— Amanda

*I have detached bone fragments in both knees. On the left, the chunk is on the outside of my knee, detached from my tibial tubercle (one of the knobs at the top of the shin bone), below my patella, giving that knee the appearance of being extra knobby. (Unresolved Osgood-Schlatter Disease.) This chunk of bone sometimes distresses and irritates my patellar tendon, which stretches over it. This is my good knee.

In my right knee the bone chunk is on the inside of the joint. Part of one of my femoral condyles (the knobs at the end on the thigh bone) has detached and remains inside my knee joint, causing daily pain and fucking up my cartilage. This is my bad knee.

Kneeling, running, and jumping inflame the cartilage inside my knees and the ligaments on their outsides. It can potentially crush the fragments further, detach new fragments, or cause the fragments to move and lock my joints. 

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