Exercises For Knee Osteoarthritis: A Sports Medicine Specialist’s Guide

Importance of Exercise in Managing Knee Osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive condition characterised by the deterioration of cartilage in the knee joint. It is predominantly seen in older adults, though it can affect individuals at any age, influenced by factors such as genetics, obesity, previous injuries, and repetitive stress on the knee joint.

Exercise offers multiple benefits that can significantly improve the quality of life for those with this condition. It increases blood flow to the cartilage and muscles around the knee, providing nutrients and promoting healing. Exercise also facilitates the production of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint, reducing stiffness and pain.

Furthermore, living with chronic pain and mobility issues can take a toll on mental health. Exercise has proven to be a mood booster, which is especially beneficial for individuals coping with long-term conditions like OA.

Types of Recommended Exercises

Recommended exercises for knee osteoarthritis focus on improving joint function and reducing pain. These are the main types of exercises recommended:

Strengthening Exercises

These exercises build the muscles around the knee, providing better support and stability for the joint. Developing strong quadriceps and hamstrings is important as they play a significant role in knee health.

Leg lifts: Sit on a chair or lie flat on your back, and slowly lift one leg at a time, keeping the knee straight but not locked. This strengthens the quadriceps with minimal stress on the knee joint.

Wall Squats: Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and slowly lower yourself into a squat position, but only go down to what feels comfortable without pain. This strengthens the leg muscles without placing too much pressure on the knees.

Flexibility and Stretching Exercises

Flexibility exercises improve the range of motion of the knee joint, reducing stiffness and making daily activities more manageable. Here are some specific stretching exercises for the hamstring, calf, and quadriceps muscles:

Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and place the sole of that foot against the inner thigh of your extended leg. Lean forward and reach towards the toes of your extended leg for a gentle stretch along the back of your thigh.

Calf Stretch: While standing, place your hands on a wall in front of you at eye level. Place one foot behind you, keeping it straight, and the other foot in front of you, bending at the knee. Lean forward towards the wall and hold for 15-30 seconds, to feel a gentle stretch in the calf of your back leg.

Quadriceps Stretch: Bend one knee and bring your heel towards your buttocks, by grasping your ankle with your hand. Gently pull your heel closer to your body until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of your thigh.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises

Low-impact aerobic exercises are beneficial as they increase heart rate and promote blood circulation without placing too much stress on the knee joints.

Walking and cycling on a stationary bike are examples of activities where individuals can gradually increase their pace to improve stamina over time. Swimming and water-based exercises are also ideal for people with knee OA as the buoyancy of water reduces weight on the joints, allowing for pain-free movement.

Balance and Proprioception Exercises

Improving balance and proprioception helps prevent falls and improves the body’s awareness of joint positioning, which allows the individual to move around safely and confidently.

Simple balancing exercises like standing on one leg can be effective, and they can be performed anywhere. Stand near a stable surface for support and lift one foot off the ground, maintaining your balance on the other leg for as long as possible, then switch legs.

Managing Pain During Exercise

It’s normal to experience some discomfort when starting a new exercise regimen, but sharp or severe pain is a warning sign to stop and rest. Apply ice to the knee after exercising if needed, as this can reduce inflammation and pain. If the pain persists, consult a healthcare provider for advice.

Exercise is a powerful tool in managing knee osteoarthritis, but it’s also important to listen to your body and adjust activities as needed to ensure that they remain beneficial without causing harm.


The types of exercises recommended here —strengthening, flexibility, low-impact aerobic, and balancing exercises—can have profound benefits to an individual’s experience with knee osteoarthritis. Exercising regularly enables them to lead more active, healthier lives, reducing the impact of the condition on their daily activities and well-being.

However, individuals with knee osteoarthritis should only start a new exercise program under the guidance of healthcare professionals to ensure maximum safety and effectiveness.