Knee arthritis affects millions of people world wide and it is not just a degenerative disease of aging. Many athletic, very active people also get knee arthritis at a younger age and it can be brought on by injuries or accidents at any age.
The question is how do we live with knee arthritis prior to or even to prevent knee replacement surgery? There are many proactive steps you can take to self manage your arthritis or you can seek out the expertise of a specialist like a personal trainer who can design a program for you.
How to Live With Knee Arthritis
Finding out you have knee arthritis can be disappointing and bring up a lot of questions. There are a few things you need to know to understand what having knee arthritis means and how it may impact your daily routine.
Knee osteoarthritis is the deterioration of cartilage and bone in your knee joint causing inflammation, swelling, instability, and pain. What happens at your knee joint is the inflammation and gradual deterioration of the structure of your joint will begin to alter your range of motion, strength, gait, balance, and stability.
This means if you are use to doing high intensity, high impact sports like tennis, running, or anything else that includes heavy loads and rotation, you will need to modify and limit these activities.
Your mission is to not exacerbate this because it will cause more pain and faster destruction of the joint leading to a knee replacement.
Things You Can Do to Manage Your Arthritis
Now that you know what knee arthritis is and how osteoarthritis affects your knee joint, you will be able to understand the changes or modifications required to manage it on a daily basis.
Here are a few steps you can take:
- Avoid high impact sports and/or high volume activity
- Make sure you have a healthy body weight to minimize load on the knee joint
- Stretch and work on the extension and flexion range of motion at your knee to prevent and minimize loss
- Strengthen the Quadricep muscle so it can absorb shock and support the unstable knee joint
- Support the inflammation at the knee with diet, ice, rest, and the management of activities that put too much load on it
- Use walking poles on long walks as they minimize load and impact on the knee joint while also improving gait and posture
- Add in the stationary bike as it oils the joint thereby decreasing stiffness and increasing range of motion (or if you are an experienced cyclist outside that is an option too)
Exercises for Knee Arthritis
It is pretty amazing to know that within your own control there are exercises you can do that will increase range of motion, minimize pain, increase strength and stability, and give you better quality of life with your knee arthritis.
Range of Motion and Stretches for Knee Arthritis
The first step you can take in maintaining the health of your knee joint with arthritis is doing exercises for its range of motion.
Everyone who has knee arthritis will start to lose knee flexion or their ability to extend fully and often with the deterioration of the knee joint, it will be the loss of both.
There are range of motion exercises you can do to increase flexion. Remember when you are deciding on flexion exercises, it is best to choose one that is non weight bearing because you want to avoid load and your body weight no matter what weight you are is a load.
Here is a knee flexion exercise you can do that is non weight bearing and feels great. Often this is done with a small squeeze ball between the knees. Please be careful if you are not use to the body ball and set yourself up near something to hold on to or have a spotter to support you.
Knee Flexion Exercise for Knee Arthritis
The above exercise helps with flexion, but how can you improve your knee extension?
Knee Extension Exercises for Knee Arthritis
Extension of the knee can sometimes be overlooked, but it is extremely important because we need it for proper gait, for standing with an even pelvis and to be free of back pain, and for many activities throughout the day.
Again, it will be important for you to choose non weight bearing knee extension exercises to minimize the load on your arthritic knee. There are knee extension exercises you can do lying down, but below you will see a functional exercise that will work on knee extension.
Tie a theraband around a stable, secure pole and the other end just above your knee.
- Place foot with the band about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet behind your front foot and start on your toes.
- Keep your body still and then begin to flatten the heel to the ground as you simultaneously straighten your knee.
- Think about contracting your quadricep muscle, or front thigh muscle as you do this
- Lift the heel to return to your toes and starting position, repeat for 10-15 repetitions starting with only 1 set
Another great functional knee extension exercise you can try if you have access to a weight room is the Shuttle machine.
Strength Exercises for Knee Arthritis
You may wonder what strength exercises you can do for your knee arthritis and feel that it is counter intuitive especially if you have to avoid and watch the load placed on your knee joint. Yes, you are right, you need to be selective with your strength exercises to avoid load, but you can still strengthen your knee joint!
A good rule of thumb depending on how advanced your knee arthritis is and what stage you are at is to select strength exercises that are non weight bearing or low load. There are strength exercises that work muscular endurance and this is the type of strength you will be working.
The most important muscle to strengthen for knee arthritis is the quadriceps. It is the muscle on the front of your thigh that is actually a group of four muscles.
So how do I strengthen my quadriceps without applying too much load you may ask? I am glad you asked!
The Shuttle machine I mentioned above is a great option and would be particularly good to implement as a unilateral or one leg exercise.
However, if you do not have access to a Shuttle machine, you can start with what I call the Circle Foam Knee Extension with small ball. If you do not have a circle foam, couch cushions, pillows, and firm towels or a bolster can be used. The small ball can be purchased from any dollar store and then all you need is you!
You can do this seated or lying on your back and the goal is extend one knee to as straight as you can without pain by contracting your quadricep muscle. Make sure your foot is flexed to the ceiling before you begin and press or squeeze in on the small ball as you extend and contract the muscle.
There you have 3 key steps to start with in managing your knee arthritis and prolonging the life of your knee joint prior to requiring knee replacement surgery. To recap, here are the 3 steps you want to take with your exercise program:
- Add in a Knee Flexion Range of Motion Exercise
- Include a Knee Extension Exercise in Your Weekly Routine
- Start a Strength Exercise for Your Quadricep that is non weight bearing and unilateral (1 leg at a time)
This is a great base for you to start with as well as doing the stationary bike at least three times a week.
Have fun with them, focus on form, connect to your muscles, and keep moving!
Let me know how you are doing with them by leaving a comment here.