5 Smart Exercises to Support Your Knees

By , Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD
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.