Slideshow: Osteoarthritis - Exercises for OA of the Knee
Reviewed by Andrew Seibert, MD on Thursday, October 20, 2011
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Warm up with a five-minute walk. Then, stretch. Lie down. Loop a bed sheet around your right foot. Use sheet to help pull and stretch leg up. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat twice, then switch legs. Stretching is one of three important types of exercises for knee OA. Range of motion or stretching exercises keep you limber. Strengthening exercises build muscle strength to stabilize weak joints. Aerobic exercises, like walking, help lung and heart fitness.
Stretching exercises loosen muscles, improve flexibility, and help prevent pain and injury.
Use a chair for balance. Bend your right leg. Step back with left leg, slowly straightening it behind you. Press left heel towards the floor. Feel the stretch in your back leg.
For more of a stretch: Lean forward, bending the right knee deeper. Don't let the right knee go past your toes. Hold for 20 seconds. Do twice, then switch legs.
Straight Leg Raise
To try this leg strengthening move, lie on the floor. Prop your back up on your elbows. Bend your left knee, keeping foot on floor. Keep the right leg straight, toes pointed up. Tighten thigh muscles of your right leg. Slowly and smoothly use your thigh muscles -- not your back -- to raise your leg.
Pause, as seen above, for five seconds. With thigh still tight, slowly lower leg to ground. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another 10; then switch legs.
Is the straight leg raise too tough? Do quad sets instead. With these you don’t raise your leg. Simply tighten the thigh muscles, also called the quadriceps, of one leg at a time.
Start by lying on the floor. Keep both legs on ground, relaxed. Flex and hold left leg tense for five seconds, as seen in right-hand photo. Relax. Do two sets of 10. Then, switch to other leg.
Seated Hip March
This move can strengthen hips and thigh muscles to help with daily activities, such as walking or rising from a chair.
Sit up straight in chair. Slightly kick back your left foot but keep toes on the floor. Lift your right foot off the floor, keeping knee bent. Hold right leg in the air five seconds. Slowly lower your foot to the ground. Repeat 10 times. Rest and do another 10, then switch legs. Too hard? Use your hands to help raise your leg.
This move helps strengthen the inside of your legs to help support your knee. Lie on your back, both knees bent. Place a pillow between knees.
Squeeze knees together, squishing pillow between them. Hold for five seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest, then do another set of 10.
Too hard? You can also do this exercise while seated. See photo to right.
Hold back of chair for support. Stand straight and tall. Lift heels off ground and rise up on toes of both feet. Hold for five seconds. Slowly lower both heels to ground. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another 10.
Too hard? Do the same exercise, only sitting in a chair.
Side Leg Raise
Hold back of chair for balance. Place your weight on left leg. Lift right leg out to the side. Keep right leg straight and outer leg muscles tensed. Don't slouch. Lower right leg and relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another 10, then repeat with left leg.
Too hard? Increase leg height over time. After a few workouts, you’ll be able to raise your leg higher.
Sit to Stand
Practice this move to make standing easier. Place two pillows on chair. Sit on top, with your back straight, feet flat on floor (see left). Use your leg muscles to slowly and smoothly stand up tall. Then, slowly lower yourself back down to sitting. Be sure your bent knees don’t move forward of your toes. Try with arms crossed (see left) or loose to your side.
Too hard? Add pillows or use a chair with armrests and help push up with your arms.
One Leg Balance
Your goal is to do this hands-free. Steady yourself on a chair, if needed. First, shift your body weight to one leg but do not lock your knee straight. Slowly raise the other foot off the ground, balancing on your standing leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Lower raised foot to the ground. Do twice, then switch legs. This move helps when getting out of cars or bending.
Too easy? Balance for a longer time. Or try with your eyes closed.
This move helps strengthen your legs for climbing stairs. Face a stable step, both feet on the ground. Step up with your left foot. Follow with your right foot. Stand on top, tall and with both feet flat. Climb down in reverse: right foot down first, then left. Do 10 times. Rest, then repeat another 10 times. Then repeat, starting with right leg first. Too hard? Use a railing, wall, or lamppost for balance. Or try a lower step.
With stiff or sore knees, walking may not seem like a great idea. But it's one of the best exercises for knee arthritis. It can reduce joint pain, strengthen leg muscles, and improve flexibility -- and it's good for your heart. The best part -- no gym membership needed.
Good form is key: Look forward, walk tall. Keep arms and legs moving, relaxed. Always ask your doctor before starting exercise when you have osteoarthritis.
Being active may also help you lose weight, which takes pressure off joints. Other exercises that are easy on the knees: biking, swimming, and water aerobics. Water exercise takes weight off painful joints. Many community and hospital wellness centers, YMCAs, and pools offer classes for people with arthritis.
Don't give up favorite activities, like golf. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about modifying painful moves.
How Much Exercise?
Start with a little. If you can do it without pain, do more next time. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
Over time you’ll build your leg muscles to support your knee and increase flexibility.
Some muscle soreness is normal, but hurting or swollen joints need rest. Take a break and ask your doctor’s advice. Ice painful joints and take acetaminophen or an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen or naproxen, if your doctor says it's OK.
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