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What is Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease and is the most common type of arthritis, occurring most often in the elderly. This disease affects the cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to wear away over time. In extreme cases, the cartilage can completely wear away, leaving nothing to protect the bones in a joint, causing bone-on-bone contact. Osteoarthritis of the knee results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion of the joint (the ability to freely move and bend a joint).

Advanced age is one of the most common reasons for osteoarthritis of the knee. You may also develop osteoarthritis of the knee in the following cases:

  • Overuse of the knee joints
  • Previous knee injury or fracture
  • Family history of osteoarthritis
  • Inactive lifestyle and obesity (overweight)

Knee Strengthening Exercises for Osteoarthritis

Exercising may perhaps be the last thing on your mind to do when your joints are stiff and painful. Nevertheless, exercise is a significant part of knee osteoarthritis treatment to ease pain and stay active. Knee strengthening exercises play a crucial role to restore normal knee function and improve flexibility and strength by specifically targeting knee muscles for better management of knee osteoarthritis. Here are some exercises that are designed to stretch, strengthen, and stabilize your knee.

  • Walking: Walking at a convenient pace either outdoors or indoors is a very good exercise. If you have issues with balance, using a treadmill with no incline helps you to hold on and walk. You can improve flexibility and posture, strengthen leg muscles, and ease your joint pain with simple walking exercise. 
  • Sit to stand: Place a chair and sit towards the front of it with your feet firmly on the floor. Lean forward with your arms crossed and hands on your shoulders. Bring your upper body forward and slowly rise to a standing position with your back, neck, and head placed straight. Slowly revert back to your original sitting position. Do 4 to 6 repetitions.
  • Half squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and stretch your arms out in front of you. Slowly bend your knees into a half-sitting posture until your kneecap is directly over your big toe. Keep your chest lifted and back straight without leaning forward. Hold the position for five seconds and then slowly stand back up with your feet firmly on the floor.
  • Straight-leg raises (lying): Lie down on the floor and bend one of your legs at the knee. Now, hold your other leg firmly straight and lift your foot several inches just off the floor level. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly lower. Repeat until you cannot do it anymore and switch to the other leg.
  • Side leg raises: Stand upright with one arm held on to a chair or wall for support. Keep the feet together. Slowly lift the left leg out to the left side and hold for 3 seconds and slowly lower the leg to its original position. Do 2 sets of ten repetitions and switch legs after every set.
  • Hamstring stretch (lying): Lie down on the floor with your legs stretched straight. Loop a towel or bed sheet around one of the feet. Now use the towel to help pull the leg straight up. Hold the position for 20 seconds and slowly lower the leg to its original position. Do 5 to 10 repetitions and then switch legs.
  • Standing back leg slide: Using the rear of a chair to balance yourself while standing, slightly bend forward and lift one of your legs straight behind you until you feel stiffened buttocks. Hold this position for few seconds without arching your back or bending your knee and slowly lower your leg to original position. Do 4 to 6 repetitions and switch legs.
  • Sitting knee flexion: Place a chair and sit towards the front of it with your feet on the floor. Lift one knee up and hold your shin in your hands. Slowly draw your shin toward your thigh. Hold for a couple of seconds and lower back to the ground. Do 10 repetitions and switch sides.
  • Sitting knee extension: Sit in a chair with feet firmly on the ground. Slowly extend one leg until it is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and slowly release the leg to the ground. Do 10 repetitions and switch legs.
  • Step-ups: Stand in front of a step of stairs. Hold onto the railings for balance if needed. Set your left foot on the step of stairs. Stiffen your left thigh muscle and step up, touching your right foot onto the step. Hold your muscles stiff as you slowly lower your right foot. Touch the ground and lift again. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions and switch legs after every set.
  • Heel raise: Stand firmly on the floor. Hold the back of a chair or place your hands on the wall for support. Slowly lift your heels a few inches off the ground and rise up on the toes of your both feet. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and gently lower both the heels to the floor. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.


Gentle stretches and strengthening exercises of the knees can offer significant pain relief, improved mobility, and stronger muscles. There are several knee exercises that your physician can recommend to choose from to achieve this objective. People with knee osteoarthritis can experiment with different exercises under their physician’s guidance and choose the ones that work best for them and incorporate them into their daily exercise routine for better management of knee osteoarthritis.

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  •  Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine
  • Alpha Omega Alpha