Exercises For Arthritis

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

Exercises for arthritis are one of the most effective treatments for knee arthritis.

Exercises for arthritis are one of the most effective ways of reducing the pain, stiffness and disability so often associated with knee arthritis. 

For the knee to be able to work properly it needs to be able to fully bend and straighten and have good muscle strength, control and balance. All of these tend to be affected by knee arthritis.

Arthritis is a common condition, usually affecting people over the age of 65.  In the US, it is the leading cause of disability.  There are  a number of treatment options that can make a big difference and exercises for arthritis are one of the most important of these, and have been shown to be one of the most effective.

Here we will concentrate on movement exercises to increase how much you can bend and straighten your knee and a balance exercise for arthritis. For strengthening and more advanced exercises, visit the other sections.

Movement Exercises for Arthritis

These movement exercises for arthritis are a great way to maintain and improve the mobility of the knee. It is common for the knee to get stiff with arthritis.

These exercises for arthritis will help to prevent this from happening and help you regain movement if the knee is already getting stiff.

1. Heel Slides

Intro: One of the most simple yet effective exercises for arthritis to do first thing in the morning to loosen your knee up before you get up – morning stiffness is a classic feature of knee arthritis.

Heel slides are a good arthritis treatment exercise to improve movement of the knee
  • Lie flat on your back or sitting up, leg and knee straight out on a bed or along the floor

  • Slide your heel towards your bottom as far as you comfortably can, bending your hip and knee. Keep your heel on the bed/floor. Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly return to starting position

  • Repeat 10-30 times, twice a day. Gradually aim to bend your knee a little more each time

  • To progress, carry out the exercise as above but when you’ve bent your knee as much as you can hook a towel over the ankle and pull it towards you to help the knee bend further – you can achieve the same effect by hooking your opposite foot over the ankle and pushing with that leg to gain more knee bend

Top Tip: Place a smooth board or a plastic bag underneath your foot so you have a slippery surface making it easier to move

2. Long Arcs

Long arcs are one of the best exercises for arthritis to do anytime you are sitting down for more than twenty minutes to prevent stiffness setting in and the associated discomfort on first standing up. It helps increase mobility in the knee and also strengthens the knee at the same time.

  • Sit on a firm chair with your knee bent and your foot on the floor

  • Lift your foot up and straighten your knee as much as possible

  • Hold for 3-5 secs and slowly lower your leg down to the floor. Then slide your foot back as far as you can and return to starting position. Do all this in one fluid motion.

  • Repeat 10-25 times, twice a day

  • To work harder add a weight either by wearing a shoe or ankle weights
Long Arcs Extra: Arthritis knee exercise. Approved Use by HEP2go.com

Top Tip: You can modify this exercise to improve knee flexion -

  • Hook your other foot around the front of the ankle and push backwards with it to further bend your knee 

  • Once you have slid your heel back as far as you can, lift your bottom up slightly using your arms and slide your bottom forwards keeping your foot still. You will find this makes your knee bend even more

3. Ankle Spins

The knee needs to be able to twist slightly to move properly and this rotation movement is often one of the first things lost with arthritis. You can regain it with this exercise for arthritis.

  • Sit in a firm chair, feet approx 6 inches apart, knees together

  • Turn your feet inwards as far as you can and then outwards

  • Spend a few minutes doing this twice a day

Balance Exercises for Arthritis

Good balance is really important to prevent knee injuries, and is often reduced with arthritis. As a quick test to see whether you would benefit from balance exercises for arthritis, try standing on one leg with your eyes closed. If you can’t do it for one minute, you would benefit from this exercise. This exercise for arthritis helps your body learn the subtle adjustments needed for good balance.

1. Single Leg Standing: Stage 1

One Leg Standing: Arthritis knee exercise. Approved Use by HEP2go.com
  • Stand by a chair or wall so you can hold on if you need to

  • Lift up your good leg and stand on one leg for as long as you can

  • Spend five minutes doing this 2x daily

  • For more of a challenge: 1. Close your eyes
    2. Throw and catch a ball – eyes open!
    3. Slowly bend and straighten your knee a small amount

What Else Can Help?

These exercises for arthritis are a great place to start but it can also really help to do strengthening exercises to build up the knee muscles and reduce the force going through the knee joint.

Once these exercises for arthritis become easy, you can progress on to more advanced exercises.

If you want to know more about knee arthritis have a look at 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: 11/09/21
Next Review Due: 11/09/23

Related Articles

Knee Swelling: Causes and treatment options for a swollen knee

Knee Swelling
March 12, 2023

Knee Pain Diagnosis Chart: Find out what is causing your knee pain and how best to treat it

Diagnosis Chart
June 12, 2024

Knee Pain Going Down Stairs

Knee Pain On Stairs
January 16, 2023