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Exercises for Arthritic Knees: How to Relieve Pain and Increase Mobility

Hayley Dawes
25 October 2023

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Are you one of the millions of people who suffer from arthritic knee pain? Tired of feeling limited in your daily activities due to discomfort and stiffness in your knees? Take heart! This blog post will provide you with a comprehensive guide to exercises for arthritic knees, specifically designed to alleviate knee pain, increase mobility, and improve your overall quality of life. Discover how to transform your knee health and reclaim your freedom to move with confidence.

Short Summary

  • Understand knee arthritis symptoms and activities that can reduce pain & improve mobility.
  • Strengthen muscles surrounding the joint through exercises such as straight leg raises, quad sets, hamstring stretches, calf stretches & more.
  • Incorporate low impact aerobic activity for 30 minutes most days of the week to reduce pain and improve quality of life.

Understanding Knee Arthritis

Knee arthritis, including the most common form - knee osteoarthritis, is a condition characterized by knee pain and inflammation in the knee joint due to the breakdown of cartilage, which serves as cushioning material between the bones in the joint. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, and difficulty moving the joint, especially with knees bent, often affecting the left knee as well.

But did you know that engaging in physical activity, such as physical therapy, can help reduce pain and enhance mobility? In fact, strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint can support the joint and reduce the impact of weight bearing on the bones.

So, what types of exercises are recommended for individuals suffering from knee arthritis? Let’s dive into the various stretching, strength training, and aerobic exercises that can help alleviate pain and improve mobility.

Preparing for Knee Exercises

Before jumping into your new exercise routine, it’s important to properly prepare your body for physical activity. Warming up is an essential step to promote circulation and help your muscles get ready for the upcoming workout. Upon completing your knee exercises, gradually reduce your heart rate by ending with a gentle walk for a few minutes.

Additionally, consider elevating your knees or utilizing a cold compress to minimize swelling and discomfort. If you have concerns about starting a new exercise regimen, don’t hesitate to seek advice and guidance from a healthcare provider or fitness instructor.

Strengthening Exercises for Arthritic Knees

Now that you’re prepared to start exercising, let’s explore some strengthening exercises specifically designed for individuals with arthritic knees. These exercises, which include straight leg raises, quad sets, and hamstring stretches, aim to fortify the muscles around the knee joint and provide much-needed support.

Straight leg raises are a great way to strengthen the quadriceps muscles, which are located in the quadriceps.

Straight Leg Raise

The straight leg raise is an effective exercise for strengthening the quadriceps muscles, the large muscles on the front of your thigh. To perform this exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Lie down on your back with one leg bent and the other leg straight.
  2. Keep your knee as straight as possible and raise the whole leg no more than 6 inches from the ground.
  3. Hold this position for a couple of seconds.
  4. Lower the leg back down.

By incorporating this simple yet effective exercise into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to stronger quadriceps muscles and improved knee stability.

Quad Sets

Quad sets are another excellent exercise for strengthening your thigh muscles, focusing on the contraction of the quadriceps. To perform this exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Place a rolled-up towel under one knee.
  3. Tighten the muscles on the front of your thigh (quadriceps).
  4. Press the back of your knee down into the towel, holding the contraction for a few seconds.
  5. Relax the muscles.

Repeat this exercise 8 to 12 times and perform several times throughout the day to maximize the benefits of strengthening your quadriceps muscles.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring stretch is another crucial exercise for individuals with knee arthritis, as it can help increase flexibility and reduce tension in the hamstring muscles located at the back of your thigh. Similarly, the quadriceps stretch can be beneficial for those experiencing knee arthritis.

To perform this stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight.
  2. Flex one knee toward your chest, gliding your foot along the floor until you feel a stretch in your hamstring.
  3. Hold the stretch for five seconds.
  4. Repeat 10 times with each leg.

By incorporating the hamstring stretch into your regular exercise regimen, you’ll be able to enhance your flexibility and minimize discomfort in your knee joint.

Mobility and Flexibility Exercises

In addition to strengthening exercises, it’s essential to work on improving joint mobility and flexibility to support your arthritic knees. Some exercises that can help in this regard are calf stretches, seated hip marches, and pillow squeezes.

Calf Stretch

The calf stretch is an excellent exercise to improve the flexibility of your calf muscles and reduce tension. There are several ways to perform a calf stretch, one of which is the Standing Gastrocnemius Stretch. Stand facing a wall and step the leg to be stretched back, keeping your heel on the ground as you lean forward, feeling the stretch in your calf.

Another option is the Standing Bent-Over Calf Stretch, in which you stand with your feet staggered, slowly bend your back knee, and keep your front leg straight as you lean forward to feel a stretch in your calf. Remember to hold each stretch for about 30 seconds and repeat on both legs.

Seated Hip March

The seated hip march is an effective exercise for strengthening the hips and thighs, ultimately improving overall mobility. To perform a seated hip march, sit on a suitable surface with an upright posture, slightly beyond the center of the seat, with your feet firmly planted on the ground.

Lift your right leg off the ground, holding it in the air for 3 seconds before gradually lowering your foot back to the ground. Repeat this exercise for a total of 10 repetitions, then switch to your left leg and perform another 10 repetitions.

By practicing this exercise regularly, you’ll be able to enhance the strength of your hip and thigh muscles and reduce the discomfort in your knees.

Pillow Squeeze

The pillow squeeze is a simple yet powerful exercise for strengthening the inner thigh muscles, providing better support for your knees. To perform this exercise:

  1. Sit on a chair or bed with a pillow between your knees.
  2. Firmly press your knees together, squeezing the pillow.
  3. Hold the pressure for 10 seconds before relaxing.

Repeat this exercise 10 to 20 times to maximize the benefits of strengthening your inner thigh muscles.

Balance and Stability Exercises

Along with strengthening and mobility exercises, it’s essential to incorporate balance and stability exercises into your routine. These exercises, such as side leg raises, sit-to-stands, and one-leg balances, can help improve your overall stability and reduce the risk of falls, which is crucial for individuals with knee arthritis.

Balance and stability exercises can help improve your overall stability and reduce the risk of falls. This is a very good article.

Side Leg Raise

The side leg raise is an effective exercise for strengthening your hip abductor muscles, which are crucial for maintaining balance and stability. To perform a side leg raise:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips or in front of you.
  2. Slowly lift your right leg straight out to the side while keeping your hips even.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds.
  4. Lower your leg back down.

This exercise can be easily incorporated into your routine and will significantly contribute to improving your balance and stability.


The sit-to-stand exercise is an excellent way to strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance during daily activities. To perform this exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Position yourself at the front of a stable chair without armrests.
  2. Place your hands lightly on either side of the seat.
  3. Shift your hips up to the edge of the chair, with your toes underneath your knees.

Lean forward slightly to bring your nose over your toes, then push through your heels and use your leg muscles to stand up. Reverse the motion to sit back down, and practice this exercise regularly to enhance your leg strength and balance.

One-Leg Balance

The one-leg balance is a simple yet effective exercise for improving stability and proprioception, or the awareness of your body’s position in space. To perform this exercise:

  1. Stand next to a chair or wall for support.
  2. Gradually lift one leg off the ground.
  3. Attempt to maintain your balance while holding the position for as long as possible.

Repeat the process with your affected leg and the other leg, and practice this exercise regularly to enhance your stability and reduce the risk of falls.

Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercises

In addition to strength training, balance, and mobility exercises, low-impact cardiovascular exercises, such as swimming, cycling, and walking, are essential for individuals with knee arthritis. These exercises not only improve cardiovascular health but also help reduce joint pain by promoting circulation and strengthening the muscles that support the knee joint.

Don’t forget about water exercise, which can provide a low-impact workout that reduces pressure on painful joints, making it an excellent option for individuals with knee arthritis.

Remember to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before engaging in your favorite activities, such as golf, to ensure you have the proper modifications to avoid further problems.

How Much Exercise is Recommended?

So, how much exercise should individuals with knee arthritis aim for? It’s recommended to strive for 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic activity on most days, along with strength training exercises twice a week and balance exercises three times a week. This well-rounded exercise regimen can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and enhance overall quality of life for those with arthritic knees.

If you experience mild muscle soreness during exercise, it’s generally okay to continue, but consider using over-the-counter pain relievers or applying ice to alleviate discomfort. As always, consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your exercise routine or if you experience pain during activity.

When to Consult a Professional

Knowing when to consult a professional is crucial for anyone with knee arthritis. If your symptoms have not improved within 6 weeks or if they have become worse, it’s advisable to seek professional advice. When consulting a professional, they will likely:

  • Inquire about your medical history, present symptoms, and lifestyle
  • Conduct a physical examination
  • Possibly request imaging tests to diagnose your condition

Don’t hesitate to utilize the numerous web-based resources available to further your knowledge about arthritic knees and activities to alleviate discomfort and enhance mobility.


In conclusion, incorporating a combination of strengthening exercises, mobility and flexibility exercises, balance and stability exercises, and low-impact cardiovascular exercises can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with knee arthritis. By following the guidelines provided in this blog post, you’ll be well on your way to alleviating knee pain, increasing mobility, and reclaiming your freedom to move with confidence. Remember to consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your exercise routine or if you experience pain during activity. With determination and persistence, you can overcome the challenges of knee arthritis and lead a more active, pain-free life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exercises should I avoid with arthritis in my knees?

If you have arthritis of the knees, it’s important to avoid running, weightlifting, jump squats, deep knee bending or knee lunges, high-impact sports and repetitive jumping, and walking or running up stairs.

Instead, you should opt for low-impact exercises that don’t require you to hold a knee position for an extended period.

Can exercise help knee arthritis?

Exercising can be beneficial for people with knee arthritis by increasing strength, reducing pain, and improving mobility.

Additionally, it helps to fight fatigue and aids tissue healing.

Is walking good for arthritic knee pain?

Walking is beneficial for those with arthritic knee pain, providing physical and mental relief. By choosing a soft surface and developing a regular walking schedule, you can positively impact your condition.

Regular walking can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and increase strength. It can also help reduce stress and improve your overall mood. Taking the time to walk regularly can be a great idea.

When should I consult a healthcare professional regarding my knee arthritis symptoms or exercise routine?

If your knee arthritis symptoms have not improved within 6 weeks or become worse, or if you have concerns about your exercise routine or experience pain during activity, it is advised to consult a healthcare professional.

What should I do if I experience mild muscle soreness during exercise?

If you experience mild muscle soreness during exercise, it’s generally okay to continue exercising. However, consider using over-the-counter pain relievers or applying ice for relief.

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