Knee Exercises

There is one thing that’s undeniable about having osteoarthritis in your knee: It makes you really not want to exercise. It’s no wonder! When a joint like your knee gets inflamed and painful, staying still can seem like the only thing that will reduce your discomfort. But it turns out, the less you move, the worse you’ll feel.

Exercise helps move fluid away from the joint, reducing inflammation and strengthening the muscles that help support your knee. This improves range of motion and reduces pain. While strength training is the most beneficial, light aerobic exercise and stretching need to be a part of your routine too.


1. Towel Roll Exercise

Sit on the floor with legs straight in front of you, arms behind you for support. Place a rolled up towel or yoga mat under one knee (the leg should feel like it’s at a 30 degree angle or so). Keeping the knee and toes pointed towards the ceiling and the knee touching the supporting roll, take two seconds to slowly straighten the leg. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower (take another two seconds on the way down). That’s one rep.

2. Bridges

Lie on the floor with both knees bent, arms at sides. Pushing through your heels, lift your hips off the ground until your torso makes a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause and slowly return to start. That’s one rep.

3. Seated Knee Extension

Sit in a chair with a resistance band around one of the chair’s legs and an ankle on the same side as the chair. Slowly straighten your leg until it’s about 2/3 straight, hold for five seconds, and slowly return to start. That’s one rep.

4. Hamstring Stretch

Stretching keeps you flexible and improves your range of motion, or how far you can move your joints in certain directions. It also helps you lower your odds of pain and injuries.

Always warm up with a 5-minute walk first. Lie down when you’re ready to stretch your hamstring. Loop a bed sheet around your right foot. Use the sheet to help pull the straight leg up. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower the leg. Repeat twice. Then, switch legs.

5. Calf Stretch

Hold onto a wall or chair for balance. Bend your right leg. Step back with your left leg, and slowly straighten it behind you. Press your left heel toward the floor. You should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat twice, then switch legs.

For more of a stretch, lean forward and bend the right knee deeper — but don’t let it go past your toes.

6. Pillow Squeeze

This move helps strengthen the inside of your legs to help support your knees. 

  • Lie on your back, both knees bent. Place a pillow between the knees.
  • Squeeze your knees together, squishing the pillow between them. Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Relax. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Switch legs after each set.
  • Too tough? You can also do this exercise while seated.

7. Ankle Pump Exercise

Ankle pumps are a small but effective exercise that strengthens your knee and ankles, improves your stability, and staves off dangerous conditions like blood clots. You do not need any equipment to complete them, and they have a myriad of benefits for both surgical and non-surgical patients.

  • Sit with back straight against a chair and legs extended in front of you, spread slightly apart. (Can also be done in lying down position)
  • Point your toes up so your soles are flat.
  • Pretend you’re pressing down on the gas pedal of an automobile and point your toes down.
  • Hold your toes in this stretch for a brief count of three to five seconds.
  • Slowly return your toes so your foot is perpendicular to the floor.

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