Knee exercises for osteoarthritis

Below are some exercises that you can do to help stretch and strengthen your leg muscles and reduce knee pain and stiffness. Before you try any of these exercises, talk to your doctor or physical therapist. He or she can help design an exercise plan that is best for you.

If you feel pain when you do these exercises, stop. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if there are other exercises that you can do to keep your muscles flexible and strong.

Quadriceps (thigh) strengthening exercises

Picture of a woman doing a thigh strengthening exercise
  1. While sitting in a chair, straighten your leg and hold for 6 seconds. Then lower your leg and rest for up to 10 seconds.
  2. Repeat 8 to 12 times with each leg.
  3. When this exercise becomes easy, you can add a light weight to your ankle.

Straight-leg raise to the front

Picture of straight leg raise exercise 1

  1. Lie on your back with one knee bent so that your foot rests flat on the floor. Keep your other leg straight.
  2. Tighten the thigh muscles of your straight leg by pressing the back of your knee flat down to the floor. Hold your knee straight.
  3. Keeping your thigh muscles tight, lift your straight leg up so that your heel is about 12 inches off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds, then lower your leg back to the floor slowly.
  4. Do 8 to 12 repetitions with each leg.

Knee-to-chest

Picture of the knee-to-chest exercise

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring one knee to your chest, keeping your other foot flat on the floor. Keep your lower back pressed to the floor. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
  3. Relax and lower your knee to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times with each leg.
  5. To get more stretch, put your other leg flat on the floor while pulling your knee to your chest.

Heel dig bridging

Picture of heel dig bridging exercise

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent and your ankles bent so that only your heels are digging into the floor. At this point, your knees should be bent about 90 degrees.
  2. Push your heels into the floor, squeeze your buttocks, and lift your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips, and knees are all in a straight line.
  3. Hold about 6 seconds and continue to breathe normally. Then lower your hips back to the floor slowly, and rest for up to 10 seconds.
  4. Do 8 to 12 repetitions.

Shallow standing knee bends

Picture of shallow standing knee bends

This exercise should only be done if you have very little pain in your knees; if you have no clicking, locking, or giving way in your knees; and if it doesn't hurt while you are doing 8 to 12 repetitions.

  1. Stand with your hands lightly resting on a counter or chair in front of you with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slowly bend your knees so that you squat down just like you were going to sit in a chair. Make sure your knees don't go in front of your toes.
  3. Lower yourself about 6 in. (15 cm). Your heels should remain on or barely off the floor.
  4. Rise slowly to a standing position.
  5. Do 8 to 12 repetitions.

Last Updated: November 4, 2009

Author: Eileen Ellig

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

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