8 Essential Exercises for Athletes with Arthritic Knees

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Stronger muscles can relieve the load on your joints and reduce arthritis pain and inflammation...

Here's how:

Just because you have arthritis doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to exercise.

But many people with this condition aren't meeting the recommended federal guidelines of 2.5 hours of moderate movement each week — and that's a shame, because physical activity is one of the best ways to combat the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

"A lot of people with arthritis stop moving."

says Lee Kaplan, MD, associate professor of clinical orthopedics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida.

In fact, he emphasizes, people should be doing just the opposite — seeking exercise and actively strength-training their muscles in order to reduce the load on their joints, which in turn can cut down on inflammation and arthritis pain.

These exercises make use of your own body weight or simple household items.

Straight-leg lift:

Strengthen your quadriceps (located on the top of the thigh) by lying on your back with one knee bent and the other leg extended. Raise your extended leg off the floor and keep it raised for five seconds, then lower it. Repeat, and then switch legs. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and build up to 2 sets of 20 reps

Single-leg dip:

Stand between two chairs for this strength-training exercise, positioning yourself so that you can balance on the chair backs. Raise one foot off the floor, straight in front of you. Using the strength of your other leg, lower down slightly, putting weight into your heel. Then return to the neutral position and switch legs, repeating the move with the other leg. Be careful not to lower yourself too far; when you have arthritis pain, you want to avoid deep squats. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and build up to 2 sets of 20 reps

Hamstring Curls:

Stand up and hold onto the back of a chair for balance. Put your weight on your left leg. Bend your right knee so that your heel is pointing toward your buttocks (although you only need to get your calf parallel to the floor or higher). Hold for three to five seconds and then lower. Switch legs and repeat, raising the left foot. If you're doing it correctly, you will eventually feel this strength-training exercise in the back of your thigh.

*If this is too easy, add 5-8# ankle weights. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and build up to 2 sets of 20 reps.


Though deep squats are to be avoided with arthritis, you can still strengthen your legs with gentle strength-training squats. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees and your feet pointed straight ahead. Lower your buttocks, using your thigh muscles for control; your knees will bend forward. Pause for a second, then lift up to the standing position. Repeat the exercise. 2 x10 building to 2 x 20.

Knee stabilizers:

Stand with a chair next to you for support. Place one hand on the back of the chair. Stand on your supporting leg next to the chair. Raise your other leg slightly to the side, keeping your leg straight. This strength-training exercise will work the outside of your thighs. Lower the leg slowly. Then turn so you can do the same with the other leg.

*If this is too easy, add 5-8# ankle weights. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and build up to 2 sets of 20 reps.

Wall squat:

Stand with your back against the wall and slide down into a semi-sitting position. Don't let your knees go forward over your ankles, let your hips slide lower than your knees, or go so far down that you feel arthritis pain in your knees. Even being just slightly in a sitting position is fine. The goal is to make your thighs work, not your knees. Hold your sitting position for five to ten seconds, then slide up to a standing position. Repeat for 2 sets of 10-20

Stepping up:

For this strength-training exercise, use a step that is about six inches high. Place it in front of you and step up with one foot. Let the other foot dangle (don't place it down on the step). Pause for about five seconds, then step back down. Repeat 10-20 times and then switch sides.

Hamstring stretch:

Stretching should also be part of your strength-training exercise routine. Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front. Lean forward, sliding hands forward on the floor. Do not arch your back or push any further once you feel the stretch.

Enjoy the stretch briefly and then sit up straight!

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