There is one thing that’s undeniable about having osteoarthritis in your knee: It makes you really not want to exercise. It’s no wonder! When a joint like your knee gets inflamed and painful, staying still can seem like the only thing that will reduce your discomfort. But it turns out, the less you move, the worse you’ll feel.
“Arthritis can put you in a cycle of pain,” says physical therapist Paula Haney, director of rehabilitation services at St. Joseph Living Center in Windham, Connecticut, and a volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation. “The deterioration of cartilage leads to inflammation and swelling, which stretches the ligaments and tendons around the knee, making you stop using the joint as much. As a result, your muscles get weaker and can’t support the knee, creating even more pain.”
Ready for some good news? The opposite is also true: The more active you are, the better you’ll feel. “Exercise helps move fluid away from the joint, reducing inflammation and strengthening the muscles that help support your knee,” says Haney. “This improves range of motion and reduces pain.” While strength training is the most beneficial, light aerobic exercise and stretching need to be a part of your routine too.
Your Osteoarthritis Game Plan
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people with osteoarthritis of the knee do 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises (this can be walking, swimming, biking, water aerobics, or anything else that’s gentle on your joints) and two days of strengthening exercises each week. And that’s where your Fitbit tracker can help. A study from researchers in British Columbia found that wearing an activity tracker can help people with osteoarthritis of the knee stick to their exercise plan.
Do each of these moves 10 times, pause, and then repeat for another 10 reps. If an exercise only uses one leg, do two sets on each side, alternating which leg you’re using.
Inner Range Quads Over Roll
Sit on the floor with legs straight in front of you, arms behind you for support. Place a rolled up towel or yoga mat under one knee (the leg should feel like it’s at a 30 degree angle or so). Keeping the knee and toes pointed towards the ceiling and the knee touching the supporting roll, take two seconds to slowly straighten the leg. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower (take another two seconds on the way down). That’s one rep.
Lie on the floor with both knees bent, arms at sides. Pushing through your heels, lift your hips off the ground until your torso makes a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause and slowly return to start. That’s one rep.
Seated Knee Extension with Resistance
Sit in a chair with a resistance band around one of the chair’s legs and an ankle on the same side as the chair. Slowly straighten your leg until it’s about 2/3 straight, hold for five seconds, and slowly return to start. That’s one rep.
Standing Leg Side Raises
Stand beside a chair, with a hand on the back of it for balance. Place a resistance band around both ankles. While keeping your shoulders and hips facing forward, lift one leg straight out sideways (try to lead with your heel and keep the knee and toes pointing straight ahead). Hold for five seconds, then slowly return to start. That’s one rep.
Lie on the floor with both knees bent. Lift one foot up off the ground. Pushing through the other heel, lift your hips off the ground. Keep going until your torso makes a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause and slowly lower. (You’ll be keeping the one leg raised the entire time). That’s one rep.
Crab Walk with Resistance Band
Stand with resistance band around both thighs, just above the knee (you’ll want the band to be tight enough that you feel some tension when your ankles are slightly separated). Put a little bend in both knees, then step sideways with one foot so that you’re standing with feet wide apart. Step your other foot to meet the first one, keeping your feet pointing forward the entire time. Continue walking sideways in this way until you’ve taken 10 steps, then reverse and go in the opposite direction.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.