In the past, rest and immobilization were deemed the best treatment approach for people with arthritis and osteoarthritis.Today, doctors recommend keeping the hips and knees moving to maintain muscle strength around those joints and prevent additional damage, such as fractures. Here’s what you should know about exercising with arthritis, without increasing pain or risking injury.
Exercises to Stay Away From
Because certain types of exercise put harmful pressure on joints and the surrounding muscles, there are a few types of exercises you’ll want to stay away from if you have osteoarthritis of the knee or hip:
- • Running or jogging
- • Jumping rope
- • High-impact aerobics
- • All activities that include having both feet off the ground at once, even for brief instances.
Fortunately, there are several other types of activities that are great for people dealing with knee and hip osteoarthritis.
These are mostly simple, straightforward exercises that can help get the heart pumping and keep the limbs active. Examples of good cardiovascular exercise for osteoarthritis pain might include:
- • Walking
- • Swimming or water aerobics
- • Cycling (often on a recumbent bicycle, which extends the angle of the joint so that the knee and hip aren’t forced to flex so much at every rotation, leading to a reduction in stress and pain on the joint)
If walking or biking is too painful, swimming and other water-related activities aren’t as painful due to less weight on the joints—though swimming also doesn’t delay bone loss in the same way that weight-bearing exercise can.
Many people assume that things like weight-lifting are bad for arthritis pain, but research has shown the opposite: strengthening the muscles around the joints helps relieve pain and lessen the burden on your joints. Studies show that people with osteoarthritis in the knee who engaged in strength and resistance training reported decreases in pain and increases in mobility.
In addition, research has shown that strength training reduces the risk of falls, which are a serious concern for many people with osteoarthritis. Exercises like yoga and tai chi can also be helpful with balance and preventing your risk of falls.
Flexibility and Range of Motion Exercises
Exercises that allow the knees and hips to perform their full range of motion in an “unforced” manner are beneficial to people with osteoarthritis. They allow the joint to lubricate itself and heal previous damage, and help increase flexibility over time.
After checking with your doctor about any limitations you may have, you’ll want to begin at two or three times per week on these exercises and gradually work up. In general, you’re looking for two or three sets, with eight repetitions per set.
Exercises for the hip include:
- • Leg swings: Hold the edge of a wall, or the edge of the pool if you’re in the water. Gently swing your leg out to the side, alternating sides. This exercise is great in the pool, as buoyancy helps with range of motion while resistance from the water helps with muscle strengthening.
- • Leg extensions: Using the same position as above, extend the leg backward gently, again alternating legs.
Make sure you can be shown how to perform these exercises correctly or have a professional observe your form—doing them incorrectly can cause issues.
Exercises for the knee include:
- • Knee rocks: Kneel down on a single knee, as if you’re proposing for marriage. Rock forward gently with your shoulders straight, stretching the front of your knee while protecting your spine. Don’t extend your knee past your toes—this could strain the knee.
- • Straight leg raises: Sit in a chair and straighten one leg, then raise it straight in front of you. Alternate legs.
- • Leg curls: If you’re able, lie on the floor on your stomach and gently bend your heel back toward your buttocks. Make sure you keep your hips on the ground.
- • Calf and hamstring stretches: Sit on the ground, putting one leg out in front of you and the other with the foot flush with your knee. Stretch forward as far as you can, then switch legs and repeat.
- • Half squats: Start standing up straight, then squat down about halfway between standing and sitting—with your legs at a 90-degree angle.
- • Step lunges: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and step forward with one leg. Bend your knee while lowering your body until your back knee is just a few inches above the ground. Repeat with the other leg.
There may be other exercises that can help with general osteoarthritis pain. Ask your doctor about these and whether they may benefit you. If you’re dealing with serious pain from osteoarthritis, your doctor can recommend a proper fitness plan.
Brady Barker, MD
I find satisfaction in helping patients recover and enjoy life again. I aim to treat each patient individually and maintain open communication throughout the treatment process.
“Knee and Hip Exercises for Osteoarthritis.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/knee-hip-exercises#1
“7 Easy Exercises to Beat Osteoarthritis Pain.” Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/exercises-to-beat-oa-pain#1