Stretching improves range of motion and keeps you limber.
Warm up with a five-minute walk. To stretch, lie down. Loop a bed sheet around your right foot. Use the sheet to pull the leg up and stretch it. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower the leg. Repeat twice. Switch legs and repeat twice.
Stretching exercises also help prevent pain and injury.
To do a calf stretch, hold onto a chair for balance. Bend your right leg. Step back with your left leg, slowly straightening it behind you. Press your left heel towards the floor. You should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Do the stretch twice, then switch legs.
For more stretch: Lean forward, bending the right knee deeper. Don’t let the right knee go past your toes.
Straight Leg Raise
Building muscle strength helps stabilize weak joints.
Lie on the floor, upper body supported by your elbows. Bend your left knee, foot on the floor. Keep the right leg straight, toes pointed up. Slowly use your thigh muscles, not your back, to raise your right leg.
Pause, as shown, for five seconds. With the thigh muscles still tight, slowly lower your leg to the ground. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another set of 10 lifts; then switch legs.
Is the straight leg raise too tough? Do quad sets instead. With these you don’t raise your leg. Simply tighten the thigh muscles, called the quadriceps.
Start by lying on the floor. Keep both legs on ground, relaxed (left photo). Flex and hold the left leg tense for five seconds (right photo). Relax. Do two sets of 10. Switch to the other leg.
Seated Hip March
Strengthening hips and thigh muscles can help with daily activities like walking or rising from a chair.
Sit up straight in a chair. Kick your left foot back slightly but keep your toes on the floor. Lift your right foot off the floor, knee bent. Hold the right leg in the air five seconds. Slowly lower your foot to the ground. Repeat 10 times. Rest and do another set of 10, then switch legs.
Too hard? Use your hands to help raise your leg.
This move helps strengthen the inside of your legs to better support your knee. Lie on your back, both knees bent. Place a pillow between the knees.
Squeeze the knees together, squishing the pillow between them. Hold for five seconds. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest, then do another set of 10.
Too hard? You can also do this exercise while seated.
Stand tall and hold the back of a chair for support. Lift your heels off the ground and rise up on the toes of both feet. Hold for five seconds. Slowly lower both heels to ground. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another set of 10.
Too hard? Do the same exercise while sitting in a chair.
Side Leg Raise
Stand and hold the back of a chair for balance. Place your weight on your left leg. Lift the right leg out to the side. Keep the right leg straight and outer leg muscles tensed. Don’t slouch. Lower the right leg and relax. Repeat 10 times. Rest. Do another 10, then repeat with the left leg.
Too hard? Increase leg height over time. After a few workouts, you’ll be able to raise your leg higher.
Sit to Stand
Practice this move to make standing easier. Place two pillows on a chair. Sit on top, with your back straight, feet flat on the floor (see left photo). Use your leg muscles to slowly and smoothly stand up tall. Then slowly lower again to sit. Be sure your bent knees don’t move forward of your toes. Try with your arms crossed or loose at your sides.
Too hard? Add pillows. Or use a chair with armrests and help push up with your arms.
One Leg Balance
This move helps you bend over or get out of cars.
First, shift your body weight to one leg without locking your knee straight. Slowly raise the other foot off the ground, balancing on your standing leg. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower. Do this twice, then switch legs. Steady yourself on a chair, if needed. Your goal is to do this hands-free.
Too easy? Balance for a longer time. Or try it with your eyes closed.
Do this to strengthen your legs for climbing stairs. Face a stable step, both feet on the ground. Step up with your left foot. Follow with your right foot.
Stand tall on the step with both feet flat. Climb down in reverse: right foot down first, then left. Repeat 10 times. Rest, then do another set of 10. Now do two more sets, starting with your right leg.
Too hard? Use a railing or wall for balance. Or try a lower step.
Even if you have stiff or sore knees, walking is still one of the best exercises for knee arthritis. Start slow and keep at it. Walking can reduce joint pain, strengthen leg muscles, and improve flexibility. It's also good for your heart.
Good form is key. Look forward and keep your back straight and your arms relaxed. If you're not active now, check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Other exercises that are easy on the knees include biking, swimming, and water aerobics. Water exercise takes weight off painful joints. Many community and hospital wellness centers, gyms, and pools offer classes for people with arthritis.
Being active may also help you lose weight, which takes pressure off joints.
For favorite activities, like golf, ask your doctor or physical therapist about how to modify painful moves.
How Much Exercise?
Aim for 30 minutes a day. Start small, with what feels OK. If the pain doesn't bother you, do more next time. Over time you’ll build your leg muscles to support your knee and increase flexibility.
Some muscle soreness is normal when you work out. Hurting or swollen joints need rest, though. Ice painful joints and take acetaminophen or an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen or naproxen, if your doctor says these are OK for you.