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.

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Good tips, the knees are the first to go! Report
OLDSKOOL556 5/22/2021
Thanks for sharing article🦋 Report
COTTONTAIL62 5/22/2021
I do all of these everyday, it has helped greatly. I learned these moves and how important they are from going to PT, so far I have avoided replacements. Report
PWILLOW1 5/19/2021
Excellent. Most of these have been suggested to me by my physiotherapist. Report
The question is not do you have bad knees? The question is do you have bad knees yet?! Report
JULIJULINN 5/15/2021
ty Report
BOB5148 5/1/2021
Thank you Report
JUSTJ2014 4/21/2021
Good article, thank you. Report
MACHOL 4/9/2021
My knees thank you! Report
I have had bad knees since I was 19. Every little bit helps. Report
-POOKIE- 3/31/2021
Great information Report
Timely information for me Report
DARCY-B 3/14/2021
I'll be starting this now. Thank YOU Report
Very helpful Report
ARNETTELEE 2/24/2021
thanks Report
JUSTJ2014 2/6/2021
Great plan Report
JUDY1676 1/12/2021
I hope it will work to do the floor exercises on my bed as I can’t get up from the floor! Report
What is worrisome is when you get to the point where you have one knee that really really hurts and it is the good one! LOL Report
What is worrisome is when you get to the point where you have one knee that really really hurts and it is the good one! LOL Report
CKEYES1 12/20/2020
Good to know Report
CD26508743 12/7/2020
Will try these for my knee pain. Report
ROBIN1616 11/17/2020
Article was good but I sure do wish they would include exercises when it is impossible for someone to get down on the floor. I use a chair. Report
JULIJULINN 11/11/2020
TY for the photos. Report
FITNIK2020 9/21/2020
Great information and happy to see photos. I would say , when you are doing side lying leg raises, it might be a good idea to not prop uup your head , but to extend it , and remember to stack your hips , to aboid tilting back. Report
ARTJAC 9/3/2020
KATHYJO56 8/26/2020
I have done these in PT and they are awesome Report
RHOOK20047 7/29/2020
Thanks for sharing these exercises Report
How do you target these muscles when you can't get down on the floor? Report
Great information Report
Grateful for the information. Report
Thank you Report
Great info! Report
Knees are a real workhorse and the body is nearly totally dependent upon their working properly. Care for the and they will serve you well Report
Thanks Report
Most of them are already in my P.T. workout! Report
How am I going to walk up and down stairs if I don't bend my knees while bearing weight, or does the author think my body doesn't weigh anything. Report
I need to do this everyday Report
Thanks! Report
Great info! Thanks for sharing! Report
Will try these on bed as I can’t on floor. Report
Thanks Report
thank you Report
i have done most of these stretches over the years Report
Could be good for knees but kind of hard on hips. Report
Thank You so much for this article. I have had a complete right-knee replacement and hope to NOT have a left-knee done. The above exercises should help. Report
Good exercises. Thank you. Report
I need to do these everyday. Report
My left knee is sore now so plan to start these once all is back to normal and maybe won't have this knee problem again. Report