Disclaimer: Please be aware that information in this article is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding an injury or medical condition.
Written by: Taylor Post BA-Kin, CAT(C)
While it may seem counterintuitive, maintaining an active lifestyle should be a priority for individuals with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. With an exercise program designed around “arthritis friendly” exercises, daily workouts can (and should) become a central part of the OA treatment program. In fact, exercise is considered by many to be the most effective non-drug treatment to reduce pain and improve mobility in osteoarthritis patients.
When selecting knee friendly exercises, it is important to look for movements that target the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. These muscles make up the main groups that support the knee. Exercises should also be low impact, minimizing excessive forces that will aggravate the knee unnecessarily. Here we look at a few key exercises to include in osteoarthritis rehabilitation programs:
Aerobic (cardiovascular) activities are key to improve endurance and maintain a healthy weight. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults (age 18-64) complete at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activities per week. They also specify that sessions should last at least 10 minutes to achieve health benefits. Walking, swimming, and cycling are all great examples of low impact cardiovascular activities. Circuit training is another creative way to increase your heart rate during a workout. Select a number of multi-joint exercises and perform them in a series with minimal rest periods in between.
Strength and Mobility Training
• Leg Raises
While lying on your back with your legs extended, raise one of your legs approximately 6 inches off of the floor. Hold this position for 5 seconds before lowering the leg down. Be sure to contract the muscles on the top of your leg before starting this movement, to keep the quads activated throughout. Complete 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions before doing the other leg.
• Side Lying Leg Raise
Start in a side-lying position, keeping your shoulders, hips and knees in line. Using your arms for support, slowly raise your top leg into the air and then slowly lower it back down. Focus on leading with your heel, by pointing your toes toward the floor throughout the movement. Repeat 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on both legs.
• Glute Bridge
Begin by lying face up on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your arms at your side with your palms down. Once you are comfortable, lift your hips and buttocks off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes hard and keep your abs drawn in, so you don’t overextend your back during the exercise. Hold this bridged position for 30 seconds before easing back down. Repeat 5-8 times and complete 3 sets of this exercise. If this is too easy, try performing this move one leg at a time.
• Mini Squat
Hold on to a chair or stable surface, with your knees about shoulder width apart. Bend at the hips and knees as if sitting down onto a chair, and then slowly stand back up. Repeat 10 to 15 times, for 3 sets. Make sure that your toes are pointing forward throughout the movement, and limit the depth of your squats to a pain-free range.
Lie on your side with your hip and knee bent to approximately a 90-degree angle, with feet together. While keeping your ankles together, raise your top knee up about 12 inches from the other, in a clamshell type motion. Repeat 10 to 20 times and switch sides. Perform 3 sets in total.
• Standing hamstring curls:
Holding on to the back of a chair or stationary surface, without moving hip, bend knee as far as possible, bringing your heel up towards your buttocks. Focus on a slow and controlled movement. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
These are just a few examples of exercises that are considered knee friendly for individuals with osteoarthritis. It is important to note that just because an exercise doesn’t appear on this list, it does not mean that it is unsafe to include in your workout program. At the end of the day, each person is different, and any movement is going to be better than none. To start, choose activities that you enjoy, and that don’t increase your pain. The best exercises will be the one you are willing to do and will keep doing regularly.
It is important to remember, that while this article presents many helpful tools to get started, not every injury or rehabilitation process will be the same. Always listen to your body and be sure to consult a medical professional as needed. Your local Athletic Therapist is a great resource for injury advice, and will design a program to suit your needs and fitness goals!
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