Knee arthritis can be a debilitating condition that affects mobility and quality of life. And whist there is no cure for arthritis, incorporating the right exercises into your routine can help strengthen the muscles around the joint, improve flexibility, and reduce pain. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best exercises for knee arthritis and provide you with a step-by-step breakdown of each exercise. Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis, these exercises can be beneficial for managing your condition and promoting overall joint health.

Understanding Knee Arthritis

Before diving into the exercises, it’s important to understand the different types of knee arthritis and how they can affect your joints. The most common types of arthritis that affect the knee include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Each type has its own unique characteristics and may require specific exercises tailored to the condition. By identifying the type of arthritis you have, you can better tailor your exercise routine to address your specific needs. If you’re unsure if you have knee arthritis, there’s a guide explaining what different types of knee arthritis feel like here.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, typically affecting older adults. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Engaging in exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee joint can help alleviate symptoms and improve joint function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation in the joints, including the knees. This inflammation can lead to joint damage, pain, and swelling. Exercises that focus on maintaining joint mobility, improving muscle strength, and reducing inflammation can be beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

Range-of-Motion Exercises

Range-of-motion exercises are essential for maintaining joint flexibility and reducing stiffness. These exercises involve moving the joint through its full range of motion, promoting better mobility and reducing discomfort. Here are some effective range-of-motion exercises for knee arthritis:

1. Leg Swings

Leg swings are a dynamic exercise that helps improve the range of motion in your hips and knees. Stand next to a wall or hold onto a sturdy object for support. Swing one leg forward and backward, allowing it to freely move in a controlled manner. Perform 10 to 15 swings on each leg, gradually increasing the range of motion as you feel more comfortable.

2. Heel Slides

Heel slides are a gentle exercise that helps increase knee flexion and extension. Lie on your back with your legs extended. Slowly bend one knee, sliding your heel toward your buttocks. Hold the position for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg.

3. Knee Circles

Knee circles are an excellent exercise for improving knee mobility and reducing stiffness. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your right foot off the ground and begin making small circles with your knee. Perform 10 to 15 circles in one direction and then switch to the other direction. Repeat this exercise on the left leg.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises are crucial for building muscle strength around the knee joint, providing better support and stability. These exercises can help reduce pain and improve joint function. Here are some effective strengthening exercises for knee arthritis:

1. Squats

Squats are a fundamental exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes – the muscles that play a vital role in knee stability and function. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower your body into a squatting position, as if you were sitting back into a chair. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your back straight. Hold the squat for a few seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 squats in a controlled manner.

2. Step-Ups

Step-ups are a great exercise for strengthening the muscles in your legs, including the quadriceps and hamstrings. Find a sturdy platform or step that is about knee height. Step onto the platform with one foot, pushing through the heel and lifting your body up onto the platform. Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat the exercise on the other leg. Aim for 10 to 12 step-ups on each leg.

3. Leg Press

The leg press machine is an effective way to target the muscles around the knee joint. Adjust the machine to a comfortable weight and position yourself with your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate. Push the footplate away from your body, extending your legs fully. Slowly lower the footplate back down and repeat the exercise for 10 to 12 repetitions.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio exercise, is crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health and managing weight. Engaging in low-impact aerobic exercises can help improve overall fitness without putting excessive strain on the knee joints. Here are some suitable aerobic exercises for individuals with knee arthritis:

1. Walking

Walking is a simple and accessible form of aerobic exercise that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. Start with short walks and gradually increase the duration as your fitness level improves. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week. If walking outdoors is challenging, consider using a treadmill or walking in a swimming pool for added support.

2. Cycling

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that provides cardiovascular benefits without placing excessive stress on the knees. Whether you prefer outdoor cycling or using a stationary bike, this exercise can help strengthen the muscles in your legs and improve joint mobility. Start with shorter rides and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness level improves.

3. Water Aerobics

Water aerobics is an excellent option for individuals with knee arthritis, as the buoyancy of water reduces the impact on the joints. Engaging in exercises such as water walking, leg lifts, and arm movements can help improve cardiovascular fitness and strengthen the muscles without placing excessive strain on the knees. Look for water aerobics classes or perform exercises in a pool with proper supervision.

Additional Tips for Managing Knee Arthritis

In addition to incorporating exercises into your routine, there are several other strategies you can implement to manage knee arthritis effectively. Here are some additional tips to consider:

1. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight can put additional strain on your knee joints, exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Aim to achieve and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the load on your joints and improve overall joint health. 

2. Use Assistive Devices

Assistive devices, such as knee braces, can provide additional support and stability to your knee joints. These devices can help reduce pain and improve mobility during exercise and daily activities. 

3. Practice Good Posture

Maintaining good posture is essential for reducing strain on your knee joints. When standing or sitting, ensure that your shoulders are back, your spine is aligned, and your knees are slightly bent. Avoid slouching or excessive bending of the knees, as this can place additional stress on the joints.

4. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to your body and modify exercises or activities as needed. If an exercise causes pain or discomfort, reduce the intensity or try a different exercise that targets the same muscle groups. It’s essential to find a balance between pushing yourself and avoiding excessive strain on your joints.

5. Consult with a Healthcare Professional

Before starting any exercise program, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or rheumatologist. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific condition and help design an exercise program that meets your needs and goals.

And remember there are a lot of exercises you can do for any type of arthritis, from hand arthritis to shoulders.

Should I Exercise With Arthritis? 

Incorporating the right exercises into your routine can significantly improve joint function, reduce pain, and enhance your overall quality of life. Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis, there are exercises available that can strengthen your knee joints and promote better mobility. Remember to start slowly, listen to your body, and consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that your exercise program aligns with your specific needs. By taking proactive steps to manage knee arthritis, you can regain control of your health and enjoy a more active lifestyle.