Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and the knee is one of the most commonly affected joints. Moving your knees is the last thing you want to do when you have knee osteoarthritis (OA). It might sound weird, but if you have knee osteoarthritis, exercises should be your priority.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 14 million Americans have knee osteoarthritis and exercises are one of the best ways to manage knee pain. It can help strengthen your leg muscles and also reduce knee pain and stiffness.
OA causes the cartilage in your knee joint to thin and the surfaces of the joint to become rougher. This means that the knee doesn’t move as smoothly as it should, and it might feel painful and also stiff.
Best Exercises for Knee Osteoarthritis
There’s no cure for knee pain in osteoarthritis, but there are exercises you can do that can help make a difference. It’s important to carry on with your exercises even if you start to feel better. Because, stopping or reducing the amount of exercise you do could cause your symptoms to come back again.
It’s important to keep active – you should try to do some of these exercises every day. Try to repeat each exercise between 5 and 10 times. Also perform the exercises between two and three times each day.
Stretching exercises should be done daily whiles strengthening exercises two or three times a week. You can also do aerobic exercises in-between two to five times a week.
Start by exercising gradually and build up over time. But, before you try any of these exercises, talk to your physiotherapist. He or she can help design an exercise plan that is best for you. Here are knee stretches and strengthening exercises to try.
1. Knee osteoarthritis exercises: Hamstring Stretch
Stretching keeps you flexible and improves your range of motion. How far you can move your joints in certain directions also keeps your joint healthy. It also helps you lower your odds of pain and injuries.
Always warm up with a 5-minute walk first. Lie down when you’re ready to stretch your hamstring. Loop a bed sheet around your right foot. Use the sheet to help pull the straight leg up. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower the leg. Repeat twice. Then, switch legs.
2. Quadricep stretch (face down)
Stretching your quadriceps can ease tension in the knee joints.
Lie flat on your stomach and rest your face on the floor. Wrap a towel or belt strap around the lower part of your affected leg. Then use the towel or belt strap to slowly pull your heel toward your buttock until you feel a stretch.
Hold for about 15 to 30 seconds, then relax your leg against the towel or belt strap. Repeat 2 to 4 times. Switch legs and repeat even if only one knee is sore.
3. Quadricep stretch (standing)
Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Bend your right knee and hold the top of your right foot with your right hand. Bring your right heel as close as possible to your glutes. You can use a wall for balance. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the left leg. Do 3 times once a day.
4. Knee osteoarthritis exercises: Knee squats
Hold onto a chair or work surface for support. Squat down until your kneecap is directly over your big toe. Return to normal standing.
Repeat until you can’t do anymore, rest for one minute, then repeat another two times. As you improve, try to squat a little further, but don’t bend your knees beyond a right angle.
5. Calf stretch
Hold onto a chair for balance. Bend your right leg. Step back with your left leg, and slowly straighten it behind you. Press your left heel toward the floor. You should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat twice, then switch legs. For more of a stretch, lean forward and bend the right knee deeper — but don’t let it go past your toes.
6. Knee osteoarthritis exercises: Rear leg lifts
Strengthening the muscles at the back of your leg helps provide support for the knee. Lie flat on the floor on your stomach, resting your head on your arms. Use your gluteus and hamstring muscles (on the back of your thigh) to raise one heel toward the ceiling. Hold for five seconds, then lower. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs. As this exercise gets easier, add ankle weights for an added challenge.
7. Stationary exercise bike
If you do not have a stationary exercise bike at home, you can find one to ride at a gym or community center.
Adjust the height of the bike seat so that your knee is slightly bent when your leg is extended downward. If your knee hurts when the pedal reaches the top, you can raise the seat so that your knee does not bend as much.
Start slowly. At first, try to do 5 to 10 minutes of cycling with little to no resistance. Then increase your time and the resistance bit by bit until you can do 20 to 30 minutes without pain.
If you start to have pain, rest your knee until your pain gets back to the level that is normal for you. Or cycle for less time or with less effort.
8. Straight Leg Raise
Build muscle strength to help support weak joints.
Lay down and bend one of your legs at the knee. Hold your other leg straight and lift your foot just off your bed or floor. Hold for a slow count of five. Keep your thigh muscles tight and slowly lower your leg to the ground. Touch and raise again. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Switch legs after each set. Do this until you cannot do any more, rest for a minute, then do this a further three times.
9. Step ups
Step-ups strengthen your legs, making it easier for you to do everyday things such as climb stairs. You’ll need an exercise step, or use a bottom stair in your house.
Stand in front of the stair with feet hip-width apart. Step onto the bottom step of stairs with your right foot. Bring up your left foot, then step down with your right foot, followed by your left foot. Hold on to the bannister if necessary.
Repeat with each leg until you can’t do any more. Rest for one minute and then repeat this another two times. As you improve, use a higher step.
10. Standing heel raises
This exercise strengthens your calf muscles. With your hands placed on a sturdy table, stand up straight and tall. Lift both heels off the floor so you’re standing on your tip-toes. Tighten your quadriceps to keep your legs straight. Don’t allow your knees to bend. Hold for one second, then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 20 times.
11. Pillow Squeeze
This move helps strengthen the inside of your legs to help support your knees. Lie on your back, both knees bent. Place a pillow between the knees.
Squeeze your knees together, squishing the pillow between them. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Switch legs after each set.
Practice this move to make standing easier. Sit on a chair. Without using your hands for support, stand up and then sit back down. Make sure each movement is slow and controlled. Repeat until you can’t do anymore.
Rest for one minute then repeat another two times. If the chair is too low, start with rising from a cushion on the seat and remove when you don’t need it any more.
13. Knee osteoarthritis exercises: Walking
Even if you have stiff or sore knees, walking may be a great exercise. Start slow, stand tall, and keep at it. You can ease joint pain, strengthen your leg muscles, improve your posture, and also improve your flexibility. It’s also good for your heart.
These are the various types of exercises that have been proven to help treat osteoarthritis of the knee. Some mild muscle soreness is normal at first. It’s OK to work through it.
Check with your doctor if you want to try over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to ease the soreness. Ice can also help. Don’t ignore pain in your joints, though. Let your doctor know if you have any.