When you're dealing with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, exercising may feel like the last thing you want to do. But there are plenty of reasons to stay active. In fact, it's not only safe, but beneficial to regularly move arthritic knees.
Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help strengthen the supporting muscles around your knees (like your quads and hamstrings) to help relieve joint pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Knee-specific range of motion exercises can also help increase the amount of synovial fluid (a fluid that helps lubricate your joints) in your joints, improving your overall movement and pain levels, according to Sutter Health.
Add these physical therapist-approved knee-strengthening exercises for osteoarthritis to your weekly routine to help improve joint heath and manage pain levels.
Best Exercises for Knee Osteoarthritis
Move 1: Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back in bed or on the floor.
- Interlace your fingers behind your right thigh.
- Slowly straighten your knee out and gently pull your leg toward your body.
- Hold the stretch here and repeat on the opposite side.
Stretching your hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thigh that attach below the knee) is a must for those with knee OA, according to Kaiser Permanente. Improving this muscle's flexibility can help maintain your knee joint's range of motion.
"Make sure to not push into the tightness to where it becomes pain," says Melissa Garcia, DPT, CSCS, a Washington-based physical therapist. "Slowly ease into the range of motion with each repetition."
Move 2: Quad Stretch
- Stand in front of a chair.
- Place the top of your left foot on the seat of the chair, rooting your right leg into the ground.
- Tighten your glutes, tuck your hips and shift your body weight slightly forward until you feel a mild pull in your thigh near the top of your knee.
- Hold the stretch here.
- Switch sides.
In addition to the hamstrings, it's also important to maintain flexibility in your quadriceps, according to Kaiser Permanente. This stretch should feel like a gently pull along the front of your leg, according to Garcia.
Move 3: Mini Squat
- Stand with the back of a chair in front of you, your feet planted hip-width apart.
- Holding the back of the chair for balance, slowly bend your knees as you sit your butt backward. The motion should be similar to the one you make when you sit down into a chair.
- Keeping your knees from moving forward past your toes, squat down as far as you are able to without knee pain.
- Hold this position for six seconds before returning to the starting point. Start with three to four repetitions and work up to eight to 10 per day.
Imagine shifting your weight behind you as you lower into the squat, Garcia says. Then as you return to standing, drive through your heels.
Move 4: Seated Leg Raise
- Sit in a kitchen chair with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle
- Slowly kick your right leg forward as you focus on tightening your right quad.
- When your leg is parallel to the ground (or as close as possible), hold it there for 30 seconds before lowering it down to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
This exercise helps activate your quads without adding extra pressure on your knee joint. This exercise can help relieve knee arthritis-related pain and improve the joint's overall function, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Move 5: Seated Hamstring Curl With Resistance Band
- Sit in a chair with a resistance band looped around your ankles. Make sure the band has some tension, but is loose enough to allow you to move properly.
- Press your left heel down a few inches in front of your right leg.
- Bend your right knee, pulling the right foot back under the chair.
- Bring the right leg back until you can't resist the band any more.
- Hold here for six seconds.
- Do between three and 10 reps of the exercise and work up to completing three sets daily.
To get the most out of this exercise, keep your front heel firmly rooted in the ground, Garcia says. Pull the resistance band with control.
Additional reporting by Bojana Galic.