5 Smart Exercises to Support Your Knees


By: , – Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD
  :  43 comments   :  530,081 Views

Perhaps the most common question I receive from patients is, ''I can’t exercise because of knee arthritis. What do I do?'' Over 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 suffer from knee arthritis. This can make exercising more challenging. As a result, many people with knee pain from arthritis just stop exercising. This can lead to obesity, loss of muscle tone, worsening of the arthritis and depression. You heard that right--exercise improves knee arthritis, and lack of exercise makes it worse!  If you have knee arthritis, there are some moves you may wish to avoid until your symptoms improve:

1. Bending  the knee while bearing weight
2. Flexing the knee past ninety degrees
3. Stressing the ligaments by leaping from side to side

If the above moves cause you discomfort, below are some alternative exercises that will move the knee joint safely while strengthening all the supporting muscles.
You will want to be on the floor for most of these exercises, so take your time getting down and back up again. Use a thick rug or exercise mat for comfort. If you have a firm mattress, you can even do some of these moves in bed. 

1. Warm up for two minutes by marching in place. This will get all the leg muscles warmed up and will begin to move the knee through a gentle range of motion.

2. Now, gently lay down on your back with your hips flexed and knees bent almost to ninety degrees. Straighten one leg at a time, making a straight line between the thigh and the lower leg. Set the foot back down and alternate with the other leg. Repeat this 30 times with each leg. This strengthens the quad muscles in the front of your thigh.

3. Now, lie on your side with your body straight. Support your head in your hand with a flexed elbow on the mat. Then, raise the upper leg out to the side as far as you feel comfortable. Lower the leg and repeat 10-20 times. Roll over and do the other side. This strengthens the outside muscles, or abductors.

4. Staying on your side, move your lower leg forward in front of the upper leg. Try raising the lower leg up in front of the upper leg using your inner thigh muscles, or 
adductors. Repeat 10-20 times, then roll over and do the other side.

5. Now, roll onto your front using a pillow or your arms to support your head and chest. Start with both legs out straight. Starting on one side, elevate the leg off the mat, keeping the knee straight. Lower the leg back to the mat and repeat 10-20 times. Then, do the other side. This is a great exercise for strengthening the 
hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh.

6. Now, finish off the workout with toe raises. Take your time to get back up to a standing position, and use a wall or bed post for balance. Stand on both feet, raise up your heels as far off the floor as you can and lower them back down. Repeat 30 times.

There you have it! In about 5 minutes, you have strengthened all the important muscles that support your knees. You can add some cardio by doing 20 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike. Remember to use zero incline on the treadmill, and use the bike on low resistance.

About the Author
Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD, is nationally-renowned orthopedic surgeon and founder of the New Hampshire Neurospine Institute. With the help of his wife Anne, he has become dedicated to the use of exercise and good nutrition as a means of maintaining quality of life during the aging process.  Now 66, he is a cancer survivor who found the benefits of exercise instrumental in his own recovery.  Along with his wife Anne, a registered nurse and certified fitness professional, he has launched MDfitness: The Doctor's Workout on DVD—an easy to follow exercise program designed for people over 40.

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  • AMBER461
    Thanks for sharing, great blog. - 11/25/2017   9:20:19 PM
    Good information! Thank you! - 11/14/2017   11:57:16 AM
  • 41
    I can't do exercises on the floor (can't get up). I do the leg lifts in bed. Works ok for me. - 11/8/2017   10:32:34 AM
  • 40
    Thanks, great article. - 10/31/2017   10:25:57 PM
  • 39
    Definitely going to give these a try - I'm struggling somewhat with arthritis. - 10/30/2017   7:12:23 AM
    My knees don't like these exercises, especially when I try to get up from the floor. That's a bigger workout than any of these. - 7/24/2017   2:31:55 AM
  • 37
    great article - 7/17/2017   10:42:47 PM
  • 36
    Great ideas! - 7/17/2017   12:11:08 PM
  • 35
    Great ideas. Thanks - 7/17/2017   7:04:07 AM
    Boy those exercises reminds me of the ones I did years ago with Jack Lalone
    Seems like I should start doing them again. I have just started having knee pain, I'm not sure if it's from arthritis or not. I will give it a try. Thanks - 7/17/2017   6:33:37 AM
  • 33
    Good information and exercises for knees. I will follow the doctor's advice. - 7/16/2017   7:17:05 PM
  • 32
    Awesome...thanks!! - 7/16/2017   5:22:45 PM
  • 31
    Great - 7/16/2017   1:37:18 PM
    Keep moving forward - 7/16/2017   10:18:31 AM
  • 29
    Great! - 7/16/2017   10:00:05 AM
  • 28
    These are very good ones. They are all on my P.T list. - 7/16/2017   9:45:23 AM
  • 27
    These are going on my list to do. - 7/16/2017   9:41:18 AM
  • NEPTUNE1939
    great - 7/16/2017   6:41:27 AM
  • 25
    Thanks so much for this blog! These exercises have been so helpful to me! - 7/16/2017   6:31:40 AM
  • 24
    These will be a good addition to my daily routine. Thanks. - 4/29/2017   11:05:36 AM
  • 23
    These look helpful, thanks! - 1/3/2017   6:43:43 PM
  • 22
    This is a very good blog. I just finished my PT and we did some of these exercises. I will be sure to add them to my routine! - 12/10/2016   8:02:24 PM
  • 21
    I love this blog, thank you for sharing your information with us. - 12/9/2016   11:08:25 AM
  • 20
    I do these on the floor, and then the next day I do pretty much the same moves standing up with an elastic resistance band around my ankle. Then I sit on the bench and do extensions from the knee with the elastic still around my ankle. I can do them all without holding on, helps with balance too. These two sets of exercises have just about eliminated pain from hips and knees. - 12/8/2016   9:09:29 PM
  • 19
    My knees have been bothering me quite a bit, so I went to my doctor to see what I can do to lose weight while helping my knees. His response was that if I lose weight, my knees would be in better shape. He had no other suggestion on how to lose weight with bad knees. Can you sense my frustration? Do doctors even listen anymore? I have lost total confidence in the medical field.

    This article gave me a lot more information than my own doctor gave me.

    Thanks. - 9/10/2016   11:35:24 AM
  • 18
    Thank you! This is the first "how to exercise bad knees" article that I've ever read that didn't say to do squats and lunges!! Has always made me wonder if the person writing the articles even knew what a "bad" knee is! These are actually exercises that can strengthen the knee without putting added weight on the joint. - 8/8/2016   8:30:46 PM
  • 17
    my physical therapist had me do the side and rear leg raises while standing and they work very well.

    Also add wall squats if you can't do regular squats due to weight or knee issues. wall squats let you do a squat while the wall takes half your weight so the knees are doing SOME weight bearing, but not bearing ALL your weight. - 4/5/2016   9:42:18 AM
  • 16
    I have multiple exercise DVD's that incorporate these exercises.Great article! - 4/3/2016   9:59:44 AM
  • 15
    I have multiple exercise DVD's that incorporate these exercises.Great article! - 4/3/2016   9:58:46 AM
  • 14
    I do most of these as part of my after knee replacement PT. I think I'll add #4 and #5. And I can't get on the floor, so I do them on my bed. - 4/3/2016   7:52:59 AM
  • 13
    I don't do floor, either, but a YouTube search will help you find excellent seated exercises that might not be on SparkPeople. 8-) - 9/21/2015   2:11:36 PM
  • 12
    Thank you! I am having knee replacement surgery soon. First one leg and then the other. I have not been exercising except upper body strength training because of pain. I love these! - 5/24/2015   2:17:22 PM
  • 11
    I will give these a try. The one thing that keeps my motivation low is knee pain. I can't really do lunges and squats are somewhat problematic. Wish me luck! - 1/18/2015   4:11:17 AM
  • 10
    Great exercises
    - 12/13/2014   11:52:09 PM
  • 9
    Fantastic article!!!! - 10/16/2014   11:44:10 AM
  • 8
    Really appreciate these moves for my knees. Now, is there anything you can suggest to ease slight hip stiffness and pain that makes getting to 10,000 steps difficult? - 10/14/2014   5:23:13 PM
    Thanks ! I suffer from severe pain in all my joints - ie elbow, shoulder and knees whilst bending or climbing down the steps. Will surely start these knee exercises.
    will be of great help If you can suggest some neck exercises also. Thank you once again. - 10/11/2014   11:50:50 AM
  • 6
    I love the suggestion to try some of these exercises in bed - great for those of us who aren't too fond of the floor! I've done similar exercises to ease me awake in the morning, or to squeeze in a mini-workout when bedtime arrives before I've fit in a more strenuous workout. - 10/9/2014   10:30:48 PM
  • 5
    Thanks!! Definitely going to try these. I'm up for anything that might postpone my knee replacement! - 10/9/2014   9:07:23 PM
  • 4
    No. If I can't bend my knees due to my arthritis then what makes you think I can get down on the floor comfortably and then get back up again? *sigh* I have such trouble finding exercises that aren't on the floor but still work my legs so my knees can improve. - 10/9/2014   7:10:12 PM
  • 3
    This is great! I notice that my knees joints like to make popping noises fairly often, and they seem to be easy to "twist" and make sore. Not good for someone in their early 30's! Hopefully adding these into my normal exercise will help with that. - 10/9/2014   10:56:23 AM
  • 2
    Thanks, LORFIBIN000! This has been fixed :) - 10/9/2014   9:19:59 AM
    The pictures for exercises 3 and 4 appear to be reversed. Great exercises - 10/9/2014   8:50:28 AM

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