6 physical therapy exercises for knee arthritis

Knee arthritis is a common condition that affects 365 million people worldwide. It can cause you pain and stiffness, drastically impacting your mobility. While arthritis doesn’t have a cure, there are several ways to help manage this condition, including physical therapy. Physical therapy can play a vital role in helping to alleviate your symptoms, improve your joint function and boost your overall quality of life. 

Symptoms of knee arthritis

Knee arthritis can cause a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person and severity. Common symptoms of knee arthritis include:

  • Pain — A hallmark symptom of knee arthritis is persistent pain in and around your knee joint. This pain is most common during movement and weight-bearing activities. 
  • Stiffness — People with arthritis are often plagued with stiffness. Stiffness can make it challenging to bend or fully straighten the leg. Stiffness first thing in the morning after waking is common but can improve with movement. 
  • Swelling — Inflammation in the knee joint can lead to swelling. Inflammation and swelling can cause discomfort and hinder your range of motion. 
  • Cracking or popping sounds — Some people with knee arthritis may notice a crackling or popping sound during joint movement. 
  • Decreased range of motion — As the joint degenerates, the ability to fully extend or flex the knee may be compromised. 

Causes of knee arthritis

Several factors can contribute to the development of knee arthritis. There are over 100 types of arthritis; however, some are more common than others:

  • Osteoarthritis — Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease commonly associated with aging and the wear and tear on joints. Over time, the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears away. As it wears away, it can lead to pain, swelling and reduced joint function. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of knee arthritis, affecting about 10% of people over 55
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells. This condition can result in inflammation, pain and joint damage. Over 18 million people worldwide have rheumatoid arthritis. 

Treatments for knee arthritis

Knee arthritis is a chronic condition without a cure; however, there are a variety of treatment options that are intended to help manage symptoms and improve joint function:

  • Medications — NSAIDs can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Analgesics may also be prescribed for pain relief. 
  • Physical therapy Physical therapy can be invaluable to knee arthritis management. Specially designed exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve flexibility and boost joint stability. 
  • Aerobic exercises — Participating in low-impact activities like swimming, cycling or walking can help promote cardiovascular health without putting additional strain on the affected knee. 
  • Weight management — It’s important to maintain a healthy weight, as excess weight puts additional stress on the knee joints. One pound of weight can add up to 4 pounds of pressure on the knees. Losing weight can help reduce your pain and improve joint function. 
  • Assistive devices — Using braces, orthotic shoe inserts or canes can help provide support and reduce pressure on the affected knee. 
  • Injections — A health care professional may recommend corticosteroid injections to help reduce inflammation and provide you with temporary pain relief. 
  • Surgery — In severe cases when conservative treatments have proven ineffective, surgical options like arthroscopy, joint realignment or joint replacement may be considered. 

Physical therapy exercises for knee arthritis

Physical therapy can be a crucial component in helping to manage knee arthritis. Treatments can focus on strengthening the muscles around the knee, improving flexibility and promoting overall joint health. Effective therapeutic exercises can include:

  • Quadriceps sets — Sit or lie down with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Tighten the muscles at the front of your thighs (quadriceps) and hold for a count of five. Relax your thighs and repeat the exercise for as many repetitions as your physical therapist prescribes.
  • Straight leg raises — Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other bent, keeping your foot on the floor. Lift the straightened leg to the height of the bent knee. Hold for a few seconds, and then lower the leg. Repeat the repetitions as directed by your physical therapist. 
  • Hamstring curls — Stand with a chair in front of you for support. Bend one knee and bring your heel toward your buttocks. Hold for a moment, and then lower the foot. Perform this exercise on each leg as directed by your physical therapist. 
  • Heel slides — Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the floor. Slide one heel along the floor to straighten the knee as much as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise as directed by your physical therapist. 
  • Wall squats — Stand with your back against the wall, with your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly lower your body by bending your knees and keeping your back against the wall. Hold the squat for a few seconds; then slowly return to standing. Repeat this exercise as directed by your physical therapist. 
  • Calf raises — Stand with your hands resting on a counter or the back of a chair. Lift your heels off the ground, slowly rising onto your toes. Hold this position momentarily; then lower your heels back down. Repeat this exercise as directed by your physical therapist. 

Knee arthritis can have a significant impact on your life — Panther PT can help

At Panther Physical Therapy, we understand the challenges knee arthritis can bring. Our team of expert physical therapists is dedicated to helping address the symptoms and also empowering you to regain control over your life. We offer a personalized treatment strategy that can include therapeutic exercises and other modalities like manual therapy, the Graston Technique®, and the Mulligan technique. Each modality can help promote your overall well-being and manage your arthritis. 

Call us or request an appointment today to begin your knee arthritis pain relief.