The benefits of exercise on all body parts and functions cannot be disputed, no less when it comes to osteoarthritis of the knee. Knee osteoarthritis is the loss of cartilage from the knee joint. Often bone will grow instead to fill the void, but grows in the wrong direction causing discomfort and pain.

It is the most common type of arthritis, nearly half of all adults will suffer with knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime; mostly those over 40. Contributing factors such as being overweight and occupational demands add to instances of knee pain and prolonged knee problems. Knee pain is usually a gradual problem that often starts intermittently and becomes worse over time. The joint gets stiffer and the thought of exercise and movement might seem counterintuitive to those suffering from the condition.

However, even though osteoarthritis patients will experience pain in movement, it is still better to exercise for long term relief. Cochrane (evidence based health care reporting) notes the benefit of both low intensity and, in many cases, high intensity exercise for pain relief1.

Taking into account the evidence from 44 separate studies, Cochrane concludes that exercise has both physical and mental benefits on those who undertake a post treatment exercise programme for osteoarthritis of the knee. Those who exercised rated their pain 12 points lower than those who didn’t exercise at all (44 points to 32 on a scale of 1-100). They also reported an improved quality of life overall.

Regular exercise can help one of the biggest causes of knee osteoarthritis – being overweight and obesity. But in addition it strengthens the muscles in the area around the knee and helps to maintain a full range of motion which combats the feeling of stiffness.

Around 30 minutes exercise a day, 5 days a week is a good benchmark. For most cases of osteoarthritis of the knee, moderate exercise is recommended such as swimming, yoga, cycling and social dancing. However, it is also recommended to have a good mix of aerobic and resistance training. For instance, whilst dancing is a good means of moderate aerobic exercise, core classes, yoga or weight lifting is also necessary to get the full benefit.

When exercising with knee pain it is important to stay within your boundaries. Listen to your body. Start slowly or with small set of repetitions (3 or 4) and work up to full sets (10 or 12). Remember to gage your own level of effort. Something that is considered strenuous for a 20-year-old male is not necessarily appropriate for a 60-year-old female. The main thing is to keep moving, regularly and with some effort that produces beneficial results.

Here are some simple exercises you can do at home to get started. If you feel pain after exercise, try using a heated pad, or take a bath or painkillers:

  1. Straight leg raise – lying on a flat surface bend one leg at the knee. Leaving your other leg straight, lift and hold just above the surface. Do not overarch your back. Hold for a count of 5 then lower. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
  2. Hamstring stretch – lying on a flat surface with both legs bent, slowly raise one leg towards your chest (still bent). Link hands behind the knee of the raised leg and straighten out the leg. Pull the leg in towards you until you feel the stretch. Do not overstretch – hold for 30-60 seconds.
  3. Knee squats – hold the back of a chair and stand with your back straight and legs hip distance apart. Squat down, keeping your back straight until you can no longer see your big toe over your kneecap. Make sure your kneecaps do not extend too far over your toes – make this a smaller slower movement. Repeat 10 times. As you gain confidence squat lower, but never more than a 90-degree angle.
  4. Sit/stands – sit on a chair with legs slightly apart. Without using your hands for support, stand and then sit back down. Repeat this as a slow and steady movement for a minute. As you improve increase repetitions in the minute.