5 Strength-Building Exercises for Arthritic Knees

Cutting out physical activity altogether can be detrimental to your overall health, putting you at greater risk of developing certain debilitating conditions.


People with arthritis are no strangers to pain, swelling, and compromised mobility. These and other symptoms of arthritis might cause you to ditch physical activity and hit the couch instead.

But avoiding all forms of physical activity might do you — and your arthritic knees — more harm than good, according to MayoClinic.org.

You might need to adjust your expectations and monitor yourself more closely, but abandoning physical exercise altogether can actually lead to an increase in knee pain and a further decrease in mobility.

Furthermore, cutting out physical activity altogether can be detrimental to your overall health, putting you at greater risk of developing certain debilitating conditions.

Instead of avoiding physical activity, do what you can to strengthen and stabilize your joints. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a sensible strength training program can help boost blood flow to your knees, beef up the muscles that support them, and help reduce the load that contributes to arthritis-related pain.

Warming Up


Before performing strength training, engage in a five to 10-minute general warmup to increase blood flow to your limbs and joints and to warm up muscle tissue.

March in place, take a brief walk around the block or do gentle range-of-motion exercises, such as small knee lifts.

For more severe cases of arthritis, Dr. Ana Bracilovic, an arthritis specialist based in Princeton, New Jersey, suggests applying a warm compress to the knees to prep them for their strength-training workout.

5 Arthritis Friendly Effective Knee Exercises

Try these five arthritis friendly knee exercises next time you’re at the gym, or even at home.

Exercise 1: Isometric Quad Sets


Isometric exercises involve no movement at the knee joint. To perform quad sets, begin by sitting or lying on the floor with your legs together and extended in front of you.

Place a rolled-up towel under your right knee. Tighten the muscles of your right thigh, pressing the underside of the knee into the towel. Hold the position for five seconds, inhaling and exhaling evenly.

Relax the leg briefly and repeat the exercise eight to 12 times before switching to the left leg. Complete a total of two or three sets on each leg.

Exercise 2: Mini Squats


Mini squats work the gluteal and thigh muscles. For mini squats, stand with your back facing the seat of a chair. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and engage your core muscles to keep your spine stable.

You can extend your arms in front of you or cross them at your chest. Exhale and slowly bend your knees until you come to a sitting position.

Pause briefly, and then slowly straighten your knees and return to a standing position. If the chair is too low, pile several pillows on the chair seat to raise it to a more comfortable height. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Exercise 3: Leg Extensions


Like mini squats, leg extensions build upper leg strength. For leg extensions, lie on your back with your right leg extended in front of you.

To help with stability, bend your left knee and place the sole of your left foot on the floor. Tighten the muscles of your right thigh and raise the leg to the level of your bent left knee.

Hold the position briefly, and then slowly lower the working leg. Perform eight to 12 repetitions, and then switch legs. Complete a total of two to four sets on each leg.

Exercise 4: Seated Hip March


Hip marches target the hips and thighs. To perform seated hip marches, sit on a sturdy chair. Engage your core muscles, press your shoulders downward and straighten your spine.

Shift your left foot back slightly, but keep your toes in contact with the floor. Slowly raise your right foot off the floor, keeping the knee bent. Hold the position for three seconds, and then slowly lower your right foot to the floor.

Repeat for a total of eight to 12 reps, and then switch legs. Complete a total of two to four sets on each side.

Exercise 5: Pillow Squeeze


Work your inner thigh muscles with the pillow squeeze exercise. Lying on your back, bend your knees, planting the soles of both feet firmly on the floor.

Place a pillow between your inner thighs, gripping it lightly with your knees. Engaging your core muscles to stabilize your spine, squeeze your knees and thighs together, compressing the pillow.

Hold the position for five seconds, and then relax your legs briefly. Complete two to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

Post Workout Stretches

To reduce post-workout soreness and to promote greater range of motion in your knee joints, follow strength exercises with light stretches that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, inner thighs and calves.

If you experience joint soreness from exercising, Bracilovic suggests putting ice or a bag of frozen peas on the affected area.

Keep in Mind


If you aren’t currently physically active, speak to your doctor before getting started with strength training. MayoClinic.org suggests resting a day between workouts and taking an extra day or two to rest if your joints are painful or swollen.

Always listen to your body, and avoid exercises that appear to cause or increase knee pain.

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