Osteoarthritis Knee Pain? Exercise Can Help


When knee pain from osteoarthritis is at its height, you may not feel like moving much, but sitting still is not the answer. Knee exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the joint, and ease the pain.

 By Marie Suszynski Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH

When your knees start to hurt from osteoarthritis, your reaction might be to move around less and less. But inactivity only leads to more knee pain.
exercising with osteoarthritis knee pain
Even when you’re in a lot of pain from osteoarthritis, your joints do better when you keep moving. “The first line of defense against osteoarthritis is physical therapy,” says Joe Ciccone, DPT, physical therapist at Columbia East Side Sports Therapy in New York City.

You can’t cure knee osteoarthritis with exercise or physical therapy, but you can improve your strength and range of motion, which will help lessen your pain, Dr. Ciccone says.

Why Joints in Motion Are Less Painful
When you start to move, the amount of synovial fluid in your joints increases — this fluid helps transport nutrients to the joint and provides lubrication as well. This is why your knees feel more painful and stiff in the morning or after sitting for a while.

Exercise also helps build muscles that support your knees, which takes pressure off the joints.
If you lose excess weight, your joints will feel even better. Every pound lost translates to four pounds less pressure on the knees, says Ciccone. So if you lose 10 pounds, you’ll take about 40 pounds of pressure off your knees.

Easing Knee Pain With Exercise
A physical therapist can give you a customized workout program with special knee exercises, but there are some activities you can start on your own. Both weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and squats, and non-weight-bearing exercises, such as swimming and cycling, are good choices for people with joint pain.
Here are some activities that can help reduce osteoarthritis pain:
  • Go for regular walks. Walking is one of the best activities for someone with knee pain, Ciccone says. Walking gets synovial fluid flowing, and increases strength and endurance.
  • Try swimming or water aerobics. Working out in the water is an excellent choice because you can exercise joints without putting stress on them, explains Ciccone.
  • Get on a bike. Cycling is also a great low-impact activity that helps improve strength and endurance without putting too much pressure on your knees.
  • Practice yoga or tai chi. Both of these gentle activities build strength and promote flexible joints. Just be careful not to force yourself into positions that put undue strain on your joints.
  • Gain strength with simple squats. Squats are a gold-standard exercise, Ciccone notes. Start by standing in front of a hard-back chair with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. Sink down into the chair by pushing your butt back and keeping your knees over your feet; then stand up. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, do it without the chair. Start with three sets of 10 repetitions and work up to 12 and then 15 repetitions.
  • Use the leg press machine at a gym. If you’re a member of a gym, Ciccone recommends using a leg press machine. Start with a weight that’s less than your body weight and use one leg at a time so that you don’t allow one leg to press more weight than the other.
  • March in place. Picking up one knee, then lowering it and raising the other knee helps increase strength, balance, and range of motion, Ciccone says. Count 10 steps on each foot per set for three sets.
  • Practice a balancing exercise. Hold onto a counter with one hand as you stand on one leg. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, move slightly away from the counter and hold on by your fingertips. Eventually balance without holding onto anything. Balance for 30 seconds on each leg; work up to one to two minutes, Ciccone recommends.
  • Stretch. Place your palms against a wall and placing one foot slightly behind you, then lean forward to stretch your calf muscle. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side. To stretch your hamstrings, sit on the edge of a chair. Straighten one leg while keeping your heel on the floor and move your chest forward until you feel a stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds then repeat with the other leg.

Choose the Exercise That’s Best for You
For Patricia Vaccarino, 54, a public relations manager in Seattle, dancing is what has kept her arthritic knees strong.

But at the age 30 a sports medicine doctor told her to stop doing aerobics and lifting weights or she would need a knee replacement by the time she was 40. “For years I did only the cardio work he recommended — riding the stationary bike and walking — and still my knees continued to deteriorate,” Vaccarino says.
Five years ago she decided to take matters into her own hands and started training at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Today she trains in ballet at least three times a week and practices Pilates three times a week. She says consistent training is the best thing she can do for her osteoarthritis. “My knees are stronger than they were when I was 35,” she says. “Osteoarthritis isn’t the end of the world, but something that has to be managed.”

Last Updated: 02/28/2011
This section created and produced exclusively by the editorial staff of EverydayHealth.com. © 2011 EverydayHealth.com; all rights reserved.

1 comment:

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