Arthritis Knee Exercise

Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board

Arthritis knee exercise is one of the best ways to treat knee arthritis pain. Find the right exercises for you

Arthritis knee exercise programmes are one of the most effective ways to reduce pain and improve function. 

Arthritis typically causes pain, stiffness, swelling and difficulty walking due to wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the knee. 

There are a number of different treatment options for arthritis, but exercises consistently come out as being the most effective. 

They help to strengthen the whole leg, and to increase the movement of the knee, both of which will help to decrease arthritis pain and increase how much you can do. 

Here you will find a whole range of arthritis knee exercise plans:

  1. Strengthening Exercises: to build up the strength of the quads, hamstrings and glutes, all vital for supporting the knee and reducing the amount of weight going through the knee bones

  2. Movement Exercises: to maintain and increase the amount the knee moves – bending, straightening and twisting

  3. Balance Exercises: to help improve the stability and function of the knee

  4. Advanced Exercises: exercises to progress on to or for people with only mild symptoms

I suggest you try them and see how you find them, then choose the ones that feel best for you. If you can perform the maximum suggested number of repetitions of an arthritis knee exercise easily, you probably don’t need to do it. If you can’t, you probably do!

Strengthening Arthritis Knee Exercises

1. Kick Backs

Intro: This a good arthritis knee exercise for the early stages of rehab. It helps strengthen the knee and also helps improve flexibility

Starting Position: Stand up straight holding on to something stable e.g. chair or table

Action: Lift your foot up as far as you can towards your bottom, bending the knee. Hold for 3-5 secs

Repetition: Repeat 5-25 times, 2x daily

Progression: Add a weight e.g. shoe or ankle weight

Note: 1) Don’t bend forwards - keep your body upright
2) Don’t let your thigh come forwards, keep your knees in line with each other

2. Short Arcs

Intro: Good strengthening arthritis knee exercise to start with, or one to do during flare ups as it doesn’t require much movement

Short Arcs Arthritis Knee Exercise

Starting Position: Lying flat on your back or sitting up with your leg horizontal on a flat surface such as a bed. Place a rolled up towel (approx 10cm diameter) under the knee.

Action: Pull your toes towards you and clench you thigh muscles. Slowly lift your foot up off the bed until your knee is straight, keeping your knee resting on the towel. Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly lower

Repetition: repeat 10-30 times, 2-3x daily

Progression: 1) Increase the size of the towel under the knee
2) Add a foot weight. Progress further by using a heavier weight 

3. Straight Leg Raise

Intro: Excellent arthritis knee exercise for strengthening the quads without having to bend the knee NB Do not do this if you have a history of back problems

Starting Position: Lie flat on your back with your leg and knee straight

Action: Pull your toes towards you and tighten/clench the muscle on the front of the thigh, locking your knee straight. Lift your foot up about 6 inches off the bed. Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly lower. Ensure your knee stays straight the whole time

Repetition: repeat 10-20 times, 2x daily

Progression: Add a weight

4. The Clam

Intro: This one is a must! 95% of all my clients with arthritis have weak glutes (buttock muscles). This changes the way the forces go through the knee meaning extra weight goes through the knee joint, especially the medial (inner) side. This can be easily corrected by strengthening the glutes

Starting Position: Lie on your side with your hip and knees bent approximately 90°, feet together.

Action: Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee up as high as you can. Hold for 3 seconds and slowly lower

Repetition: Repeat 10-25x on each side, 2x daily

Note: Do not let your top hip roll backwards

5. Buttock Clenches

Intro: Maintain and strengthen the glutes without the knee moving. An alternative to The Clam if you can’t lie on your side or the exercise is too difficult

Starting Position: Sit on a firm chair

Action: Clench your buttocks together and hold for 3 seconds. You should feel yourself rise up slightly

Repetition: Repeat 10-20x every 3-4 hours

6. Knee Marching

Intro: Four arthritis knee exercises in one - increases quads strength, improves knee mobility, improves circulation and loosen up the legs when you’ve been sitting for a while

Starting Position: Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor

Action: March your legs up and down one at a time. Lifting your knee and foot up and then back down

Repetition: Repeat for about 1 minute, 2x daily and any time you're sitting for more than 20 mins to stop your knee getting stiff

7. Sit to Stand

Intro: This is a great arthritis knee exercise as it works lots of muscles at the same time (quads, hams and glutes), and is also very functional – it’s a movement we do frequently during the day, but normally only once at a time. Improves knee mobility, strengthens quads and glutes, improves general fitness

Starting Position: Sit in a firm chair, feet on the floor

Action: Lean forwards, lift your bottom and stand up straight and then sit back down

Repetition: Repeat 10-30x

Notes: You can make this arthritis knee exercise easier by 1) Pushing up through your arms too 2) The higher the chair, the easier the exercise

Progression: 1) Don’t use your arms 2) Use a lower chair 3) Increase the speed you do the exercise at 4) Hold a heavy weight – e.g. bag of books while you do the exercise

What Next?

If you haven’t already done so, have a look at the Top Tips and Getting The Best Results sections for general tips and guidance on exercising effectively so you achieve the best results from the exercise plans below.

Once you are confidently doing these exercises, you can progress on to more advanced arthritis knee exercises.

Check out our book - Knee Arthritis: Take Back Control. Available in paperback or on Kindle

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I have devised a daily arthritis knee exercise plan so you have somewhere to start, which you can find at the end of this section. Please tailor it to suit you – some exercises may be too easy or too difficult for you and therefore not appropriate.

You can also find out more about arthritis including other treatment options.

You can also check out our book Knee Arthritis: Take Back Control.  Packed full of great information from exercises to knee replacements and everything in between.  

[Strengthening Exs] [Movement/Balance Exs] [Advanced Exs] [Arthritis]

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Page Last Updated: 17/11/20
Next Review Due: 17/11/22