There’s a joke making the rounds across TikTok about people discovering that they “stand wrong.” It might seem silly, but it rings true: We often make it to adulthood without adequate posture, and then we’re shocked when we end up in pain.
Sure, it’s something most of us do every single day—yet we’re doing it in a way that backfires. It’s all too common for our everyday habits to have negative consequences when we let them get away from us.
A common victim of our subconscious habits is our knees. The good news? “There are not many [day-to-day] positions that are going to wreak havoc on your knees,” says Kristin Torres, DPT, a physical therapist in California. So standing itself may not be the issue. However, “There are a few mechanical—preventable!—issues that are bad for your knees, and [can] cause early osteoarthritis,” Dr. Torres says.
Here’s how to stack the odds in your favor, and avoid knee pain by breaking these three bad habits for your knees.
Bad habit 1: Not wearing the right shoes for your feet
The primary culprit behind early knee damage? “Bad shoes for your feet,” Dr. Torres emphasizes. “Now, everybody’s feet are different. But for the most part, you want to allow your foot to have good flexibility and mobility in the shoe, and not have them fit too tight.”
That said, whatever your arch is like, she always recommends a shoe with a wide toe box, whether you’re in a minimalist shoe or maximum support style.
She knows that this may sound like an odd tip for knee health. But “the knee is in between two powerhouse joints: the ankle and hip joints. These need to be strong for the knee to be strong,” she says. Proper footwear helps your joints work in harmony and stay in healthy alignment, thus preventing injury and pain.
Bad habit 2: Not exercising your glute medes
“To not wreak havoc on your knees, you need to have strong glutes—primarily strong gluteus medius,” says Dr. Torres. When your “glute mede” is weak, your femur rotates too far internally. “This causes a valgus force (or knocked knee) to the knee joint,” she says. “This can also cause early medial (or inner knee) osteoarthritis.”
The solution? She suggests incorporating gluteus medius exercises into as much of your movement routine as possible—as often as daily. Think: leg lifts to the side, and single-leg squats.
Bad habit 3: Not stretching
We know, another annoying reminder you hear all the time: Stretching really is important. “One of the best tips I can give you for your knees is to always stretch before exercising,” says Dr. Torres. “It doesn’t matter if it’s running, weight lifting, HIIT, cardio workout, Pilates, or anything else, when you go into a workout with muscles that aren’t warm, you are setting yourself up for unsuccessful form, which will negatively impact your range of motion.”
Her recommendation to her clients is to use dynamic stretching to warm up, then do any static stretching as a post-workout cooldown.
Dynamic stretching, she says, is a series of active, fluid stretches, in a repetitive pattern (as opposed to static, where you’re holding a specific position for several breaths). A dynamic warmup “gets the blood flowing into muscles, allowing you to get deeper into the range of motion each time you perform the movement,” says Dr. Torres. Think leg swings or walking lunges. “This is great for your body, and can prevent both injury and early onset osteoarthritis.”
Static stretches, on the other hand, extend the muscles to help them relax after a workout, Jorden Gold, founder of the stretch studio Stretch Zone, previously told Well+Good. This can help increase flexibility and alleviate pain.
“Moral of the story: Stretch every day!” says Dr. Torres. “Take those 10 minutes and do it. Your knees will thank you later.”