With spring right around the corner, it is time to start thinking about getting out and being more active – whether it is gardening or simply going for walks in the warming weather! While it’s great to resume activity, it can be especially difficult for those dealing with knee pain. Knee pain and, more specifically, knee osteoarthritis (OA) pain has become more prevalent. It affects at least 19% of Americans 45 and older and accounts for more than 80% of the total arthritic burden (Wallace IJ, Worthington S, Felson DT, et al, 2017). However, there is good news!
Arthritis and knee pain don’t have to prevent you from doing what you enjoy.
There are many conservative treatment options, including exercise. A recent systematic review concluded that exercise “reduces knee pain, improves quality of life and improves physical function among people with knee OA” (Fransen, McConnell, Harmer, Van der Esch, Simic, & Bennell, 2015).
Should you exercise while having knee pain?
While it is always important to consult with health professionals, knowing how to scale exercises can help prevent further worsening of symptoms and often decrease pain and sensitivity (Bartholdy, Klokker, Bandak, Bliddal, & Henriksen, 2016).
Exercises to Help Reduce Knee Pain
A common exercise used by many to help reduce knee pain or OA is the squat. A squat is one of the most common movement patterns people use on a daily basis and it is also a useful exercise. Imagine for a moment trying to get off the couch or the toilet without squatting.
There are many squat variations and techniques depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Generally speaking, to prevent excessive knee irritation try placing your feet about shoulder-width apart and try not to let your knees go past your toes. Below are some modified strategies to help knee-pain sufferers maintain a consistent exercise routine.
Mini-Squat (Arm Assist)
Find a rail or support bar you can use for support. While using your arms for support try to “sit back” and squat as far as you feel comfortable.
With your back against a smooth surface, place your feet away from the wall (far enough so your knees don’t go past your toes) and squat as far as you feel comfortable.
Mini-Squat (Elevated Surface)
While seated on the edge, place your feet about shoulder width apart and stand up and sit down. The higher the surface the easier it is, and it gets harder the lower the surface is. To make it harder try to just barely touch the surface instead of sitting.
Another option, if available, is to use a leg press machine. Set up is similar with the above exercises but you can often adjust the resistance to make it easier or harder.
- Wallace IJ, Worthington S, Felson DT, et al. Knee osteoarthritis has doubled in prevalence since the mid-20th century. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114(35):9332-9336.
- Fransen, M., McConnell, S., Harmer, A. R., Van der Esch, M., Simic, M., & Bennell, K. L. (2015). Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee: a Cochrane systematic review. Br J Sports Med, 49(24), 1554-1557.
- Bartholdy, C., Klokker, L., Bandak, E., Bliddal, H., & Henriksen, M. (2016). A standardized “Rescue” exercise Program for symptomatic flare-up of knee osteoarthritis: description and safety considerations. JOSPT, 46(11), 942-946.
The Wellness Wire is a series designed to provide evidence-based strategies to improve the wellness of our readers.
Guest blog by Doctor of Physical Therapy alumnus Dr. Landan Morgan.