Thursday, April 7, 2011

Saving the knee

Workouts for Arthritic Knees
7 workouts that are easy on knees (and what to watch out for)
by Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Health

Q. I feel limited in my ability to exercise with arthritis. What are some workouts that I can do with arthritis in my knees?

A. You may have a wider array of fitness options than you realize. Some people think that the only safe exercise is swimming or stretching. But that’s not the case, and even those can also strain the knee.

What you should be on the lookout for are the key stressors for your knees: Some exercises or movements may be painful because they bend the knees too deeply, twist the knees, or put too much body weight pressure or impact on the knees. Sometimes you’ll know right away if a move is potentially harmful: You squat deeply in a yoga move and ouch! But some workouts might feel stressful when a simply body-positoning djustment is all you need to relieve the joint stress.

Different types of knee problems may react differently to various modes of exercise. So tread gently but experiment with a variety of possible activities. Whatever type of exercise you do, it’s important to make sure that you position your body in the ways least stressful to your knees. Here are 7 workouts that may work for vulnerable knees:

1. Muscle-strengtheners
Certain exercises that target the muscles in your butt and thighs can improve range of motion and strength in the knee joint. These might use body weight only (such as a lunge). Some might use resistance in the form of dumbbells or other weights or resistance bands. But you need to make sure that you perform them correctly so that you do not strain the knees when you do them. I’ve written about how to safely perform squats and lunges, exercises you might do in a fitness class or when following a fitness DVD at home. When you use added resistance, always start easy and work up to heavier loads gradually. Your muscles should get stronger with a small dose of resistance exercise. As they do, you can gently increase the load to help them become even stronger.

2. Walking
Some people with achey-knees find it difficult to do higher impact exercise like running or boot-camp style exercises that involve jumping. Sometimes simply exercising in new, quality sneakers on a shock-absorptive surface (sprung wood floor or dirt path instead of concrete) can minimize knee stress, allowing a person to run. But if jumping is not an option, walking may be. Of course some people with knee problems also find it tough to walk, too. Experimenting with newer walking sneakers and a good walking surface can help. But if not, that’s OK: You still have plenty of other options.

3. Cycling
Riding a bike is a low-impact option that allows you to get a cardio workout without bearing any body weight on your knees. But this option isn’t guaranteed to be stress-free because, whether you’re riding an outdoor bike or an indoor stationary bike, if the seat is not adjusted to fit your body, cycling can still strain your knees. Usually people have their bike seats too low. I’ve written about how to spot and fix a bike-seat problem.

4. Cardio machines
Your knees may feel fine on some cardio machines, but not others. Your options include rowers, steppers, elliptical trainers, upper body ergometers like arm cycles and rope-pullers, as well as treadmills and bikes. Most machines allow you to adjust the speed and resistance, or intensity level, of the workout. It might be that you can safely use the machine at lower speeds or easier effort levels. Or it might be that you can use a machine for 20 minutes, but your knees start to ache at 25.

Some machines may bend the knees more than others. And some may have a motion that is more ( or less) stressful to the knees. The Cybex Arctrainer, for example, distributes it’s resistance in a way that may be easier on your knees. So this machine may be a less stressful variation of elliptical trainer/stepper. Experiment with different machines and the aspects of each workout that you can vary like resistance and speed to see if you can identify the formula that allows you to exercise comfortably.

5. Swimming or Aqua Exercise
People tend to assume that swimming is the safest workout that you can do for your joints because the buoyancy of the water gives the body so much support. It’s cushiony, for sure. But like every other workout, the specific movements you do in the water will still affect the stress your knees feel. In fact, the frog-like leg kick in the breaststroke actually puts torque, or slight rotation, on your knees that can be aggravating. The straighter-leg flutter kick may be a better option.

Aqua aerobics workouts or those that use foam water tools to do exercises may be easier than on-land cardio or resistance workouts.

6. Stretching
Stretching can help increase the range of motion in stiff joints. So workouts that include lots of flexibility exercise like yoga, Pilates or basic stretch classes are a good option. But as with any workout, avoid assuming that all stretches are safe. Just because they are slow doesn’t mean they can’t hurt your joints.

And there are certain poses you may wish to avoid as they tend to put excess strain on the knee joint. These can include cross-legged positions like the lotus pose, or moves where you bend your knees deeply—especially when you sit or lunge with your body weight bearing down on the bent knee.>1=31004

I ran across this article on my MSN home page and have copied it for you. I am going to have surgery on my knee Tuesday and am on the lookout for anything that can help me get moving again without angering my arthritis that I just found out about.


  1. Good information for those of us with achy knees. Hope your surgery does the trick for you and you have more ease of movement.

  2. This is a keeper. I, too, deal with those achy knees. Sometimes it is just so hard to make it up the subway stairs.