Strengthening and flexibility exercises are some of the most important things people with osteoarthritis can do for their knees. They can relieve pain, strengthen joints, and improve their function. With the right exercises, you don't have to worry about damaging your joints.
Many people with osteoarthritis avoid sport and exercise. They are afraid of putting strain on the joints and further "wearing them out". Today we know, however, that the joints are damaged if they are not moved enough. There are two reasons:
- Movement stimulates the metabolism and blood flow and supplies the synovial fluid with nutrients.
- Movement ensures that the synovial fluid gets into the joint cartilage: under load, the cartilage compresses like a sponge and releases waste products; when it is relieved, it absorbs nutrients from the synovial fluid.
Sport also strengthens the muscles, improves the stability of the joints and promotes mobility. This protects the knees and also helps in everyday life - for example when climbing stairs or getting up from a chair.
Initially, the body may have to get used to regular exercise. The joints can then hurt a little and muscle soreness or slight exhaustion can occur. Studies show that the effort is worth it: after just a few weeks, regular strength and flexibility training can relieve pain and improve joint function. In addition, exercise is usually also good because it increases general well-being, strengthens confidence in your own body and helps clear your mind.
Which Exercises Are Suitable For Knee Osteoarthritis?
For the treatment of knee osteoarthritis, strength and flexibility training is particularly recommended - ideally 2 to 3 times a week for about 45 minutes. If you can't do that, you can try to slowly improve.
Before strengthening exercises, it is best to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes - for example on an ergometer or by brisk walking. It is also useful to start with light exercises and gradually increase the load.
Exercises to strengthen the leg muscles include:
- Put one foot on the first step of a flight of stairs.
- Lift the other foot onto the step and immediately lower it back to the floor.
- Repeat continuously for a minute, then switch sides.
You can hold on to the banister for stabilization.
Getting up from the chair without help
- Sit on a chair with your legs at a 90-degree angle and slightly apart.
- Cross your arms in front of your chest and tilt your upper body slightly forward.
- Now slowly get up and sit down again without the support of your arms.
- Repeat for a minute at first, then pause briefly and try to do the exercise a little longer.
Over time, more repetitions are usually possible. The lower the chair, the more difficult the exercise becomes. It is best to place the chair with the back against a wall so that it is stable.
Strengthening of the thigh muscles
- Sit on a chair or stool that is tall enough with your legs bent at approximately a 90-degree position.
- Attach a light weight cuff to the lower leg (above the ankle).
- Slowly straighten and lift one leg, hold it for 5 seconds, then slowly bend and lower it again. Repeat 8 to 12 times, the same with the other leg.
- Pause for about a minute, then follow up with another 2 to 3 sentences.
At first you can do the exercise without a weight cuff.
Tensing the thigh muscles
- Sit on a chair and place your feet flat on the floor so that your thighs and lower legs form about a 90-degree angle. Then cross your two lower legs.
- Then try to straighten the lower leg and hold against it with the upper leg so that the thigh muscles are tensed in both legs.
- Tense for 5 seconds and relax for 5 seconds, alternating 12 times, then take a short break. Repeat the exercise 2 to 3 times.
- Then cross your legs the other way around and repeat accordingly.
Coordination and agility exercises
Many experts recommend supplementing strengthening exercises with coordination and agility exercises. In order to improve coordination, you can get into the habit of brushing your teeth, for example, by standing on your right leg and sometimes on your left leg. With time and practice, it may even be possible to stand on tiptoe while doing this.
What Should You Watch Out For?
It is important to do the exercises safely. This means, for example, avoiding jerky movements and supporting yourself while standing on a chair or table during certain exercises. Stable, well-padded sneakers with a grippy sole are also useful.
If you have other illnesses or health problems, it is best to discuss with your doctor whether there are reasons that speak against certain movements. One reason could be an acutely inflamed knee joint that is swollen and painful.
Does Endurance Sports Also Help?
Most of the studies looked at training programs to strengthen muscles. However, there is also evidence that endurance training such as brisk walking (Walking) or cycling can help tone the muscles. The same applies toTai chi.
To improve endurance, sports with even movement sequences are particularly suitable, in which the joints are moved but not stressed by strong impacts - for example, walking (Walking), Cycling, swimming and aqua aerobics. Sports in which the joints have to cushion great forces and receive a lot of shocks, such as jogging, tennis or football, are rather discouraged.
If you want, you can combine different types of training. It is probably cheaper to split them up over different days: For example, doing strengthening and movement exercises two days a week and walking or cycling for around 30 minutes on two other days a week.
Who Can Help Find Suitable Exercises Or Sports Courses?
When choosing suitable exercises and courses, you can seek advice from a physiotherapist or a doctor - ideally in a practice that is familiar with osteoarthritis. With professional help, exercises can be found that suit your mobility and strength.
There are various support options:
- Physiotherapy guided training
- Functional training or rehab sports in groups
- Prevention courses from statutory health insurances (e.g. tai chi)
The aim of physiotherapy is to learn exercises that can then be implemented independently over the long term. Doctors can do up to six units for osteoarthritisphysical therapyprescribe - if there are medical reasons, more. A new physiotherapy prescription can be issued after six months.
Special training groups for people with osteoarthritis are offered by self-help groups and larger sports clubs. This also includes so-called functional training: gymnastics or water aerobics, which is instructed by a physiotherapist. The advantage: If the organizer has the approval of the health insurance, this functional training can be used in groups at the expense of the statutory health insurance - usually twice a week for twelve months, under certain conditions for up to 24 months. The doctor can prescribe functional training on a special formwithout burdening your budget. This also applies to so-called rehab sports to improve endurance, strength, coordination and mobility. Rehabilitation sports are offered in groups, usually on 50 appointments over 18 months.
The statutory health insurance companies also offer various prevention and health courses that are also suitable for people with osteoarthritis - for example courses on strengthening muscles and joints or tai chi. These courses are particularly suitable for people with mild osteoarthritis. Some are also offered as online courses. The health insurance company provides information on the range of courses.
How Do I Find The Right Amount Of Exercise?
Exercises to strengthen the muscles must be strenuous - otherwise they have no training effect. It is normal for this to cause slight, temporary pain. However, severe pain should not occur. Are signs of excessive exercise
- Pain that feels more than a 5 on a personal scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (maximum pain),
- Pain that lasts for hours after training and
- Swollen joints the day after.
When this happens, fewer repetitions or lighter exercises are advisable. In the event of problems, it is also always useful to ask a specialist whether the exercises are being carried out correctly or whether others are better suited.
Why Should One Overcome Fear Of Pain?
Especially at the beginning, if you are still unfamiliar with training, the joints can hurt. Many people with osteoarthritis consider the pain a signal that their body is being damaged. Chronic pain only says something about the condition of the joints to a limited extent. If the joints hurt a little when you move, it doesn't mean that it's going to damage them. Movement is therefore also possible with slight pain.
There are other reasons why pain is not always a reliable warning signal in osteoarthritis: How you feel it depends heavily on your mood and the current situation. For example, those who train in a group with guidance may be less concerned about or feeling much less pain than someone who is unsure about it at home alone.
Those who stay active have many advantages: Many studies have shown that physical training can relieve osteoarthritis pain and improve joint function. During training, the body's own substances are released that have a pain-relieving effect. It also stimulates blood circulation and metabolism and ensures that bones and cartilage are adequately supplied with nutrients. Exercise also lowers the risk of falling .
What Helps To Stay True To The Training?
Incorporating regular training into everyday life requires motivation and can be difficult in the long run. Many people do this better if they attend courses on fixed dates or meet up with friends or partners for training. Some set up reminders, for example pack their sports bag before work or motivate themselves with small rewards. Fitness watches and smartphone apps are also a way of keeping track of your activities, setting goals and motivating yourself. It also makes sense to have check-ups in a physiotherapy or doctor's practice. The exercise program can also be adjusted.
If you see noticeable success over time, this also helps to stay on the ball. After all, if training is part of everyday life as a matter of course, many people no longer want to miss it.