If you’re a senior with knee problems there’s a good chance it’s root cause is osteoarthritis (often abbreviated to OA). But there are a couple of dozen reasons why you have knee pain. Ultimately there’s only one way to be certain and that’s to get it checked by your doctor, an x-ray and maybe a specialist.
If, like me, it’s diagnosed as osteoarthritis you probably want to avoid, or delay, knee surgery. As my neighbor hobbled past his advice was “if you can avoid it don’t do it”. This was followed by several words I’ll not quote and the advice that “it hurts a lot”.
IMPORTANT: Although none of these exercises are extreme or difficult you should still check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Exercising with Osteoarthritis
Maybe your first thought is to cut back on walking and other exercise to preserve you knee and make it last longer. Big mistake. The advice I’ve received from 3 physiotherapists, one from an Orthopedic hospital, sports specialist and one associated with the Arthritis Society in Canada is keep moving and keep exercising.
Aerobic and Strength Exercises
Exercises fall into two broad spectrum.
Stamina or Aerobic Exercises
- These get your heart pumping and breathing hard
- Promotes general good health
- Being fitter may help with sleep
- Use it or lose it and there maybe some help with pain reduction
What you probably want to avoid is pounding the pavement by running. Look for low impact options.
3 Excellent Low Impact Aerobic Exercises for Seniors
- Swimming is an excellent option. Water resistance helps increase the benefits with both stamina and muscle tone. Because the water supports your weight there’s less impact on your joints.
- If you can find a hydrotherapy facility (swimming in warm water) even better. The extra warmth, especially during the winter, can help relax tight muscles and joints. It’s also very relaxing, not a bad thing by itself.
- In the summer outside, or a stationary bike indoors during the winter, cycling is a great way to exercise. Stamina, knee flexibility and core strengthening all with low impact.
- Walking is another relatively low impact option. Get out in the countryside or park gets you lots of fresh air, time to reflect, and grass tends to be more forgiving on the joints.
Talk to your doctor first but over the counter painkillers before exercise can help reduce pain. Options include
- Analgesics like acetaminophen
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen.
Please do talk to your doctor about pain control options. All drugs, even over the counter medicines, can have side effects and may interact with other medication you are using.
No need for gym membership as there are plenty of exercises you can do at home with, or without, special equipment. The benefits include
- strengthen and tone the muscles that control your knees
- helps stabilize and protect the knee joint
- can reduce the chance of your knee giving way and consequently reduce the chance of a fall
- if it’s part of an overall strengthening program you’ll look better, walk better and feel better
Don’t forget that the first three aerobic/stamina exercises, swimming, cycling and walking, all help strengthen your leg muscles, including those associated with your knees.
7 Strengthening Exercises to Help Manage Knee Pain.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator and you can do this one as part of your daily life.
Alternatively stand at the bottom of some steps, rail or banister helps, step on to the first step with your right foot and then lift your left foot up onto the stair. Now step down with your right followed by your left foot. Repeat until you are short of breath.
Next time you do this exercise start by lifting your left foot followed by the right. This makes sure both knees are exercised evenly.
As your strength and confidence improve you can
- Challenge yourself to see how many steps you can do in one minute
Straight Leg Raise
Lie on your back, keep one leg straight but relaxed and bend the other leg to about 45 degrees.
Lift the straight leg off the ground a few inches and hold for a slow count of 5 ( I count 5 breaths). Repeat 5 times with each leg.
- Increase repetitions or hold for longer
- Build the exercise into your daily life by doing the leg raises in bed morning and night (just make sure your partner knows what you plan to do)
- Leave the sheets over your leg for extra resistance.
- Invest in some light leg weights or wear a heavy pair of boots (probably best not in bed) for extra benefit
Stand with the back of a tall chair or work surface in front of you. Hold on or, for the brave, just have it their in case you need to grab on for support. Slowly bend until your knee just begins to cover your toes. Now return to standing. Try repeating 10 times, or as many as you can do.
- Try not to have your bent knee further forward than your toes.
- Aim to build the number of repetitions.
- Gradually bend the knee further but never more than 45 degrees (right angle).
- If you’ve been holding on to the chair try doing it without having your hand on the chair. This is great for balance and confidence.
Sitting Straight-Leg raise
Move to the front of the chair and take a seat. Sit up straight with your back against the chair. Raise one leg and hold for a slow count of 10. Now lower your leg. Repeat 5 – 10 times for each leg.
- Raise and lower your leg slowly and controlled.
- Remain relaxed. You’re not a weight lifter so no straining and grunting (this applies to all of the exercise)
- Aim to increase the number of repetitions.
- When you are really comfortable try doing it with light weights. Ankle weights can be purchased quite cheaply. Alternatively use some heavy outdoor boots that weigh about 1 kg (2 lbs) each.
- Try pausing briefly about half way through each movement to work muscle in a different way.
Sitting and Standing
Still using the chair sit upright with your knees at right angles and feet firmly on the floor and a few inches gap between them. Now lean slightly forward and stand up without using your hands. Aim for slow and controlled rather than jumping up like a fire alarms just gone off. Repeat for about a minute.
- If you need extra support for safety or confidence use a chair with arms but try not to push with your arms.
- There’s several things you can do to increase the exercise benefits
- Increase the number of sit/stands you do in a minute
- Alternatively try to do the same number of repetitions but make them slower.
- If you don’t need your hands carry anything from a 1 kg (2 lb) bag of sugar to a 5 kg (10 lb) bag of potatoes.
- Try using a lower chair or bottom couple of steps of stairs.
Sit comfortably on the edge of a table or bed. Raise both legs and cross one ankle over the other. Pull back on the lower leg and push forward with the upper leg so they are working against each other. Your thigh muscles should tighten. Hold for 10 seconds and swap legs. Aim for 4 repetitions on each leg.
- Hook one foot against the other for maximum traction.
- Gradually increase the number of repetitions or hold time.
Sit on the floor or on your bed and stretch both legs out in front of you. Keeping your heel on the floor pull one leg back towards you until the knee is bent at right angles or you feel the leg muscles stretching. Hold for 10 seconds. Now straighten your leg and stretch it out in front of you. Hold this new position for a further 10 seconds. Aim for 10 repetitions on each leg.
- Either lie with your back flat on the floor or comfortably leaning against the back-rest. You might find the stretching feels different.
- Keep each movement slow and controlled.
- Gradually increase the number of repetitions and/or the length of time you hold the stretch
Knee Exercise Routine
- Aim to do these exercises regularly 3 – 4 times per week
- The strength exercise routine should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes
- You should feel your muscles working when lifting or stretching
- If you feel unusual pain stop and consult a health professional
- Taking OTC painkiller before exercising can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- When you’ve finished move around or go for a walk just to loosen up.
“Use It or Lose It”