The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Stay Active While Strengthening Your Osteoarthritic Knees

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Live well

Thursday, Aug 13, 2015

When someone mentions (or perhaps, you experience) bad knees, the term osteoarthritis often comes to mind. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the cartilage of synovial joints and commonly affects the knee joint.  Osteoarthritis is  pervasive in society today, and affects sedentary individuals as well as those who maintain a physically active lifestyle. While athletic activity does not have a cause and effect relationship with osteoarthritis, traumatic injury that sometimes results from athletic pursuits can increase the likelihood of its occurrence – which I think may explain the issues that have plagued me and my knees. Currently I’ve been able to manage the effects of osteoarthritis and have been able to remain active, but not without the incorporation of a few exercises like those below (Thomas et al, 2013).  These exercises have helped maintain the strength around my knees, and are designed to protect the cartilage that is left in my knees.

  • Knee extensions against manual resistance – similar to performing a machine knee extension, but instead have a partner apply resistance on the front of the shin that allows movement through full range of motion
  • Stretching of the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, gastrocnemius, and soleus. Specifically, use of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching has been shown to provide significant benefits.
  • Hip abduction and hip adduction resistance exercises
  • Other resistance exercises showing benefit include the leg press, leg curl, straight leg lift, and calf raise
An estimated 52.5 million US adults report having been diagnosed with osteoarthritis to the extent where quality of life is affected by pain and functional limitations. This number is projected to rise to 67 million by 2030, paving the way for a definite need to find ways to take care of our knees (Murphy et al, 2012). In addition to the exercises noted above, here are a few suggestions that can be used by individuals without osteoarthritis as well as those who currently are dealing with pain from osteoarthritis:
  • Weight loss - One of the most influential risk factors associated with knee issues is increased body mass. Research has consistently shown a significant correlation between obesity and both the incidence and progression of knee osteoarthritis. Thus, weight management, and ultimately weight loss, is an important consideration for those dealing with osteoarthritis or wanting to help prevent onset.
  • Shock-absorbing insoles – These are especially useful for those who are overweight, obese, or have a heavy heel strike in walking and running.
As both a preventive measure and for rehabilitation it is still suggested that the middle-aged athlete continue recreational sport and activity, if pain-free, as there is a positive association with activity and improved function, performance, and reduced pain. If pain is present, individuals should seek medical advice from their physician. In addition to treatments described above, the diagnosing physician may recommend simple strategies such as braces and additional treatment options.

Learn more about exercise program modification, injury prevention, and performance improvement at Corrective Exercises for Injury Prevention, August 20-21, in Dallas, TX.


National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.  Arthritis. Meeting the Challenge of Living Well At a Glance 2014. Retrieved from

Murphy L, Helmick CG. The impact of osteoarthritis in the United States: a population-health perspective. Am J Nurs. 2012;112:S13–S19

Thomas, A., Band-Entrup, D., Kuhn, S., Legere, L., Et al. Physical Therapy Management of Knee Osteoarthritis in the Middle-aged Athlete. Sports Med and Arthroscopy Review, 2013:21(1):2–10. doi: 10.1097/JSA.0b013e318272f530