The Five Best Exercises for Knee Arthritis Pain Relief

exercise for knee arthritis

Pain is one of life’s great limiters, but thankfully – when it comes to osteoarthritis in the knees – there are some simple exercises that can reduce your pain so you can concentrate on living life to its fullest.

Arthritis can be an incredibly painful and debilitating condition. For many people, living with knee arthritis means missing out on the joy of important experiences and events.

Happily, there is a simple and evidence-based way of easing the pain and getting life back on track.

A 2017 review examining the clinical effectiveness of physiotherapy exercises for knee osteoarthritis (OA) found that, “exercise represents an inexpensive, nonpharmacological, nonsurgical intervention providing beneficial effects for pain and physical function for knee OA patients”.

Physical therapy for osteoarthritis reduces pain in two ways – firstly, by helping the joint regain or retain the full range of motion, and then by strengthening the muscles around the joint to offer extra support.

Keep reading to discover the best exercise for osteoarthritis of the knees – all of which can be done quickly and easily at home.

#1 – Straight leg raises

Every osteoarthritis exercise program for the knees should include straight leg raises because they strengthen quadriceps – the muscles attached to the knee joints.

  • Start by lying down with one leg bent at the knee and the other lying straight.
  • Slowly raise the straight leg until both knees are at the same level. Make sure you keep your leg straight.
  • Slowly return your straight leg to the ground.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side. If you feel uncomfortable at first, start with the number of repetitions that feels comfortable and slowly work up to doing more.

#2 – Mini squats

Squats are great OA knee exercises because they build up your glutes and the muscles around your thighs, giving your knees better support.

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can hold the back of a chair or a bench for extra balance if you find that helpful.
  • Slowly bend your knees until your body has lowered about 10cm. This exercise shouldn’t be painful, so if you are feeling pain, make the squat shallower until you have regained some strength and flexibility.
  • Keep your feet flat and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes.
  • Slowly tighten your buttocks as you straighten your knees.
  • Repeat 10-15 times. You can increase the number of times you do this per day as you become stronger.

#3 – Hamstring stretch

These are an effective osteoarthritis physiotherapy treatment for the knees as they help to stretch and strengthen your hamstrings, which are the muscles on the back of the legs that attach to the knees.

  • Lie flat on your back.
  • Keep one leg on the floor and lift the other as high as you comfortably can while keeping both legs as straight as possible.
  • Intertwine your hands around the back of your thigh.
  • Pull back gently, while keeping your hips on the floor, until you feel a stretch in the hamstring.
  • Count to five and release, lowering the leg slowly to the floor.
  • Repeat five times for each leg.

#4 – Mobilisation with movement

New Zealand practitioner Brian Mulligan created a new approach to physiotherapy for osteoarthritis that has been adopted around the globe. Among his many techniques is this exercise that helps regain knee movement by supporting the tibia bone in its natural rotation that takes place as the knee bends.

  • While standing, place one foot onto a chair or other raised platform with a bent knee. Make sure you are balanced and comfortable.
  • Make sure your bent leg is aligned with the centre of your knee in line with the centre of your foot.
  • Wrap your hands around your calf just below the knee.
  • Hold firmly and twist inward, toward your other leg. This is not a large movement and shouldn’t be painful.
  • Bend your knee 10 times while holding the twist in place.
  • Repeat on the other side.  

#5 – Knee extensions

These are some of the best exercises for arthritic knees because they help regain the motion of straightening the knee, something that many people begin to lose as the condition worsens.

  • Begin by sitting on a chair and repeatedly extending one leg out in front until it is as straight as you can get it.
  • Once any pain reduces and you feel comfortable, take the same leg and place the heel on a chair in front of you with the knee slightly bent.
  • Straighten your leg and, if necessary, push gently above your knee with your hands to help the leg straighten. You may feel some lowl-level pain, but this should reduce with repetitions.
  • Repeat 10-15 times with each leg.