Flexibility and Range of Motion
There are a number of specific exercises that you can do, designed to be easy for people with osteoarthritis, to increase your flexibility and range of motion around your knees and hips.
“We want to do activities without force that bring the hips and knees through the full range of motion in a general, unforced manner, allowing the joint to lubricate itself and help to heal the damage,” says Arslanian. You can do these stretching exercises in a pool, or on a mat near a wall for support.
Before starting an exercise or flexibility training program, check with your doctor. Depending on your ability and comfort level, try these exercises 2 to 3 times per week and gradually work up to doing the exercises daily. Aim to do 2 to 3 sets of 8 repetitions per side.
- Leg swings. Simply hold onto the edge of the pool, or the wall if you’re on land, and gently swing your leg out to the side, alternating sides. “The pool is particularly good for this, because the buoyancy assists you and you get a better range of motion, and you also have resistance from the water that makes your muscles do more work,” says Arslanian.
- Leg extensions. In the same position, extend your leg gently backward, alternating legs. As with all range-of-motion exercises, Arslanian advises getting an expert consult before starting out. “If your hip is very tight, and you try to bring it behind you and it doesn’t move backward very well, you can end up overarching your back and causing back problems by doing it incorrectly. You need to be shown how to do it right.”
- Knee rocks. Get down on one knee as if you’re proposing marriage (with a soft mat underneath to cushion your knees). Rock gently forward, keeping your shoulders straight. This stretches the front of the knee while protecting the lumbar spine. Make sure your knee does not extend past your toes as this can strain the knee.
- Straight leg raises. Sit in a chair, straighten one leg, and raise it straight out in front of you. Alternate legs.
- Leg curls. If you are nimble enough, lie on the floor on your stomach, and gently bend your heel back toward your buttocks, making sure to keep your hips on the ground.
All of these exercises should be done without weights, Arslanian advises. “In general, it’s not a good idea to put a weight on the ankle and bend and straighten the knee. That puts a lot of torque on the knee that can exacerbate arthritis.'' If you want to add weight, use a leg press machine, she says.