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. 

How To Do Arthritis Knee Exercises

For arthritis knee exercise plans to be most effective, you need a combination of:

  • 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 bones with knee arthritis

  • Movement Exercises: to maintain and increase the amount the knee moves – bending, straightening and twisting and reduce stiffness which is so common with Knee Arthritis

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

  • Advanced Exercises: exercises to progress on to or for people with only mild symptoms from knee arthritis

Here, we will start with strengthening exercises for knee arthritis. There are a whole load to choose from - 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!

1. Kick Backs

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

  • Stand up straight holding on to something stable e.g. chair or table

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

  • Repeat 5-25 times, 2x daily

  • Progress by adding a weight e.g. shoe or ankle weight

Top Tips: 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

A 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
  • Lie 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

  • 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

  • Repeat 10-30 times, 2-3x daily

  • Progress by increasing the size of the towel under the knee or using a foot weight

3. Straight Leg Raise

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

  • Lie flat on your back with your leg and knee straight

  • 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

  • Repeat 10-20 times, 2x daily

  • Progress by adding a weight

4. The Clam: Stage 1

The Clam 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.

  • Lie on your side with your hip and knees bent approximately 90°, feet together

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

  • Repeat 10-25x on each side, 2x daily

Top Tip: Do not let your top hip roll backwards

5. Buttock Clenches

Buttock clenches help to maintain and strengthen the glutes without the knee moving. An alternative to The Clam if you can’t lie on your side or if you find it too difficult.

  • Sit on a firm chair

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

  • Repeat 10-20x every 3-4 hours

6. Knee Marching

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

  • Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor

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

  • 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

Sit to Stand 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

  • Sit in a firm chair, feet on the floor

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

  • Repeat 10-30x

  • You can make this arthritis knee exercise easier by pushing up through your arms/hands or using a higher the chair

  • For more of a challenge 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?

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Once you are confidently doing these exercises, you can progress on to stage 2 arthritis knee exercises for more of a challenge.

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.

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.

If you are looking for more information to go along with these arthritis knee exercises, check out the following articles:

  1. Arthritis Causes: The main causes of arthritis
  2. Symptoms & Diagnosis: The symptoms of OA and how is it diagnosed
  3. Stages of OA: How the disease and symptoms progress
  4. Treatment Options: 15 great ways to reduce arthritis knee pain
  5. Diet For Arthritis: Which foods to avoid and which foods can help
  6. Natural Arthritis Remedies: Including supplements, homeopathy and alternative therapies
  7. Knee Arthritis Surgery: Replacing an arthritic knee with a new one
  8. Beat Knee Arthritis: Everything you need to know in a handy book

Page Last Updated: 11/01/23
Next Review Due: 11/01/25

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