When you struggle with knee pain from arthritis, you know the effort it takes just to complete normal daily activity. From swelling to stiffness- the last thing you want to do is move. However, knee pain from arthritis can be lessened with the help of exercise.
How Arthritis Affects the Knees
The ends of the bones that meet in the knee joint are covered with cartilage. This cartilage provides cushioning and protection to the bones as you move. The knee also has the meniscus between the thigh and shin bone. The meniscus protects the cartilage.
When someone has arthritis, the cartilage wears down over time. As the bones rub together, they create friction on the joints. This may lead to bone spurs, swelling and stiffness. Bending and straightening the knee with arthritis is difficult.
The meniscus can wear down too. According to Dr. Johnson, Orthopedic Surgeon at CCMH, The meniscus is like a brake pad on your car. “It won’t last forever, “ said Dr. Johnson. “The number of cycles you put on it cause wear and tear. It may not be able to protect cartilage as well as it could before it was worn out.” A tear in your meniscus or other injury to your knee can damage or cause additional wear, which can predispose you to knee osteoarthritis earlier than you would with the normal aging process.”
Knee arthritis is not uncommon. It usually starts at 50 years of age and older.
Using Exercise to Help Knee Arthritis
Exercises for arthritis including aerobics and strength exercises can reduce symptoms, increase balance, add joint motion and function, and aid in weight control.
“Your body relies on muscles to help motor joints,” stated Dr. Johnson. “For the knee, that’s the quadriceps in the front of the thigh and hamstrings in the back. You can’t cure arthritis or make it go away, but if you strengthen the muscles that support and stabilize the knee, you can take some of the stress load of weight-bearing or walking off a joint that’s worn out and weakened from arthritis, and place it on the stronger muscle.”
Things to Consider Before Exercising with Knee Arthritis
It is always advisable to discuss a new exercise program with your physician. A doctor or physical therapist can help you choose a program that is safe, helps you gain strength, and won’t increase inflammation and joint pain. If you’ve had knee surgery, get guidance from your doctor or physical therapist on what knee exercises are safe for you.
Joint Protection Tips
Commit to doing a little exercise each day
Dr. Johnson suggests trying to stay active even when arthritis flares up. Simple range-of-motion stretches may actually help reduce pain.
If you do too much too fast, your muscles may be overworked and joint pain worsened. Slowly increase in exercise intensity and length as you progress.
Start with gentle stretches
“When beginning any activity, start with five minutes or 10 minutes of stretching to help elongate the muscles and make them easier to move,” Dr. Johnson said. “And do it again at the end. Don’t force any stretches; keep your movements slow and easy. With strength training, begin with fewer reps or lower weight, and build up gradually.”
Listen to your body
If your joints start to ache or you experience new joint pain, stop. Discuss with your doctor to learn what pain is normal. Some discomfort may be normal, but your doctor can help you identify pain that is more serious.
Exercises to Relieve Knee Pain from Arthritis
Dr. Johnson recommended these knee exercises:
This exercise stretches the back of your thigh and behind your knee.
While lying on the floor with both legs bent and feet on the ground, lift one leg off the floor and bring the knee toward your chest. Put your hands behind your thigh below your knee. (You may also loop a towel around your thigh and grasp the end, if it is easier.)
Straighten your leg and pull it toward your head gently until you feel a stretch.
Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Repeat the sequence one or two more times on each leg.
Don’t put your hands (or towel) at your knee joint and pull.
This exercise stretches the front of your thigh.
Stand behind a chair or next to a wall. Hold on for balance.
Bend one knee. Bring your heel up toward your buttock.
Hold onto your ankle and gently pull your heel closer to your body.
Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Repeat the sequence one or two more times on each leg.
Be sure to not arch or twist your back while stretching.
This exercise strengthens the front of your thigh.
While lying on the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders to support your upper body, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
Place your leg with the affected knee in front of you while straight. Bend the other leg so your foot is flat on the floor.
Tighten the thigh muscle of the straight leg. Then, slowly raise it 6 to 10 inches off the floor.
Hold this position for 5 seconds. Then, relax and bring your leg to the floor. Repeat for three sets of 10.
Dr. Johnson suggests trying this exercise while you watch your favorite TV show. Start with five reps at every commercial until you get to 30. Then, gradually work your way up to 50, and 100. As it becomes easier, you can slowly increase the resistance by adding ankle weights. Slowly increase them by one pound increments.
This exercise strengthens stabilizing muscles of your foot, knee, and hip.
Stand next to a wall or door frame for support.
While you balance on your right foot, hold on to the wall or door frame to stay steady if needed.
Keep your knee straight over your ankle, slightly bent.
Slowly lift your left foot until your knee is level with your hip. If you cannot quite get there, get as close to that position as you can without pain.
Slowly lower your foot back to the floor. Then, repeat with the other foot.
Repeat as many times as you can, while in correct position.
This exercise helps strengthen thighs and buttocks.
Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart, or a little wider.
If needed, hold on to something stable, like the back of sturdy chair or kitchen sink.
Keep your chest lifted and shift your weight back into your heels while slowly pushing your hips back, as is you were sitting down into a chair.
Keep your feet flat and lower yourself as far as you’re comfortable (such as a quarter or halfway down to where a chair would be).
Push through your heels and bring your body back up to standing.
Repeat the sequence three times.
This exercise increases range of motion and strengthens the back of the thigh and buttocks.
Stand in front of a sturdy chair that won’t move. A table in front of you can help with support, if needed.
Stand with your feet planted on the floor and hip-distance apart.
Press your buttocks and hips back first. Then, bend your knees and slowly lower yourself to a seated position.
Hold the table, if needed, to keep you from falling back into the chair.
Tip forward at the hips.
Push through your feet up with your legs into a standing position.
Repeat three times, gradually building up to more reps.
If your arthritis pain is debilitating, please reach out to CCMH Orthopedics by visiting http://www.ccmhhealth.com/orthopedics/.
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