The most important way to combat osteoarthritis of the knee is staying active. The joint is supplied with nutrients only when you keep moving, thus alleviating pain. This article includes exercises and types of activity that will help you stay fit and that are beneficial for your knees.
Every step takes a lot of effort if you’re suffering from knee pain. Patients with osteoarthritis of the knee know this all too well. During this gradually progressing condition, cartilage in the knee joint breaks down prematurely ‒ until the bones eventually rub together, causing a lot of pain. It not yet possible to cure this type of joint condition. That’s why treatment primarily aims at alleviating pain and stopping the progression of the disease. But what can you do about osteoarthritis of the knee?
What does actually help with osteoarthritis of the knee – rest or exercise?
It’s very tempting to rest the affected joint when it’s hurting. However, this will not counteract cartilage wear – on the contrary. In the long term, the pain will get worse if you stay inactive. Without movement, there will be no production of the joint’s lubricant, called synovial fluid. The cartilage needs this lubricant for its nutrient supply and to remain elastic, to fulfill its cushioning function and to stop it from breaking down further.
Keeping active has another advantage: by keeping physically fit, you also build muscles. And muscles are important to stabilize the knee joint. Strong leg muscles support the knee and provide stabilization. This, in turn, relieves the joint.
Enough reasons for osteoarthritis patients to start exercising – provided that these are appropriate exercises for the knee.
Which types of exercise are recommended for osteoarthritis of the knee?
The rule of thumb is a lot of movement, very little strain. If tennis, football or basketball used to be part of the training regime, patients need to think again after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Quick and abrupt movements and changes of direction are not good for the joints. Your physician or therapist will know which activities will be beneficial for you.
Gentle exercise with flowing, uniform movements are soothing for the knees. Tai chi, swimming, cycling, going for a stroll, Nordic walking or specific exercises for the thigh muscles, for example, are beneficial.
With powerful exercises and gentle stretches, tai chi1 and yoga help to relax while, at the same time, building muscles. Some of the exercises stimulate the production of joint lubricant particularly well. Good to know: not all exercises are beneficial in cases of osteoarthritis of the knee. If you inform the instructor about the condition before the class, they can make adjustments.
Water buoyancy during aqua aerobics reduces strain on the joints. Warm water is particularly favorable. If patients also use a buoyancy vest, the additional joint relief will help to ideally train the muscles.
1 Recommended in the S2k Guidelines for Osteoarthritis of the Knee, 2018.
The best method to counteract osteoarthritis is gentle exercise because it keeps the joints mobile.
Prof. Dr. Stefan Sell
Medical Director Gelenkzentrum Schwarzwald
Steady movements during the backstroke or front crawl as well as cycling help mobilize the joints. Remember during cycling: don’t pedal too hard – that will unnecessarily subject your joints to excessive strain. Instead, we recommend uniform pedaling in a low gear. Plus, the bicycle must be set up correctly to ensure your knees are never fully extended. Particularly gentle activities are also going for a stroll and Nordic walking.
In addition, there are specific exercises for patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee that strengthen the thigh muscles and promote mobility: squats, lunges or standing on one leg and balancing, for example. Balancing exercises on a wobbly surface are great for improving coordination. You can, for example, stand on a folded blanket and lift one leg at a 90 degree angle.
How much exercise do our knees need?
In order to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee and to positively influence its course, regular exercise is essential. However, hours of training are not needed. Even 30 minutes every day are enough. If the exercises are simply integrated into everyday activities such as watching TV or brushing teeth, they will quickly become routine. Even small changes of habit have an effect: make short journeys on foot or by bike. Instead of taking the elevator, use the stairs more often. This will quickly add up to 30 minutes per day.
Using the Bauerfeind Treatment App, osteoarthritis patients can also compile targeted exercises for their knees – customized to their personal fitness levels and pain thresholds. Wearing a Bauerfeind knee support helps during the exercises. It stabilizes the joint and helps you to exercise with less pain. So nothing can stand in the way of a more active lifestyle.