Healthy Joints: Knee Exercises for Arthritis

Arthritis plagues millions of individuals across the world. Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two of the most prevalent types. Knee discomfort is common in both disorders. Exercising an arthritic knee may seem counterproductive, but regular exercise can actually decrease arthritis pain. 


Many people with knee osteoarthritis choose to work out because of the following reasons:

  • The joint's full range of motion is maintained by exercise.
  • The muscles that support the joint are strengthened by exercise.
  • Strong muscles cushion the joint against shock.


Remember, it doesn't have to be difficult to be beneficial. In fact, low-impact, gentle exercises are best for people with arthritis in their knees. These exercises reduce stress on the joint by increasing its flexibility and strength.



Beneficial Knee Exercises for Your Arthritis Pain

If you suffer from arthritis pain in your knees, stretches and exercises are an important part of maintaining joint health. By keeping the joints lubricated, you can prevent further damage and pain. Knee-specific exercises also help to increase flexibility, which is important for people with arthritis.


The most beneficial knee exercises can be done in your home, or anywhere you can find a little extra space. They are simple, effective, and efficient—without needing any specialized equipment. Start slowly and gradually. As your muscles and joints begin to strengthen, gently increase the repetitions.



Heel Slides

Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you. Slowly slide your heel along the floor until your leg is straight. Bend your knee and repeat. Do this exercise several times a day, or as often as you can.



Quad Sets

Lie on your stomach with a rolled-up towel under your ankle. Gently straighten your leg, then hold the position for a count of five. Relax and repeat. Do three sets of this exercise daily.



Hamstring Curls

Lie on your back with both legs extended straight in front of you. Place a small hand weight on your thigh just above the knee. Slowly lift your leg, keeping your knee bent. Hold the position for a count of five, then lower your leg and repeat.



Calf Stretch

Use a chair or tabletop for balance. Bend your right leg and step back with your left. Slowly straighten your left leg behind you. Press your left heel onto the floor. This should feel like a soothing stretch in the back part of your calf. Hold this stretch for 15–30 seconds then repeat with the opposite leg.


For more of a stretch, lean forward and bend the right knee deeper—but don’t let it go past your toes.



Straight Leg Raise

Leg raises help to build muscle strength that will support your knee joints, reducing pain. Lie on your back on the floor and support your upper body with your elbows. Bend your knee and keep your foot on the floor. Keep the opposite leg straight with your toes pointed up. Tighten the muscles on the straightened leg and raise it up. Pause in the air for five seconds and then lower your leg to the ground. Repeat this exercise 10 times, then switch legs. 



Precautions to Take Before and After Exercise

Before you begin any exercise program, it’s important to talk to your physician, especially if you have arthritis. He or she can help you create a safe workout routine that will not aggravate your condition. Be sure to warm up before you start stretching or exercising. A simple way to do this is to walk in place.


Before you start, consider using a heat pack on your knee and leaving it on for around 20 minutes. The heat will soothe the pain and draw blood to the surface. This helps to decrease stiffness before you begin. If your physician recommends it, try to take an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen about 45 minutes before any exercise to mitigate pain.


After working out, apply an ice pack on the aching knee for 10 to 15 minutes. This will aid in the reduction of any swelling caused by exercise. It will also assist with pain alleviation and comfort.


Remember, any new fitness and nutrition routine should be approved by your primary care physician.  



How Much Should I Be Exercising My Arthritic Knee?

The amount you should exercise really depends on the level of pain and severity of arthritis. If you experience a lot of pain, start with very light exercises and increase intensity and duration as tolerated. If you can do more without pain, then aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week.


Mild soreness is expected when you first begin to exercise and it's generally okay to work through this type of soreness. However, joint pain is different from soreness and should be treated with caution. If these exercises cause or exacerbate any joint pain, speak with your physician before continuing.




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Content contained on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult your health care provider before beginning any new fitness or dietary plan. References provided are for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Should you have any health-related questions, you should contact your health care provider.