How can you improve arthritic knees?

Exercising an arthritic knee may seem counterintuitive, but regular exercise can actually lessen — and even relieve — arthritis pain and other symptoms, such as stiffness and swelling.

Walking is an excellent form of exercise. It’s low-impact, and because it’s a weight-bearing exercise, it helps strengthen the muscles and build bone. Wear good, sturdy shoes. Start out slow, and gradually increase your pace and distance for best results.

Water exercise, or walking in the shallow end of a pool, are also superb for muscle strength and knee flexibility. Because the body is buoyant in water, it lessens impact to near zero as it makes you work a little harder to move. Look for water exercise classes through your local Arthritis Foundation, community recreation center, or gym.

The very best knee exercises may be the ones you can do at home or even during a break at the office. They’re easy, effective, and convenient, and don’t require any special equipment. Do them slowly, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as your muscles get stronger.

Afterwards, be sure to do a few gentle stretching exercises to help prevent your muscles from tightening up. Consider exercising your knees every other day to give sore muscles a rest.

The following describe several of the best at-home exercises for knee arthritis:

The Leg Raise (Lying): Lie flat on your back on the floor (or bed) with your arms at your sides, toes up. Keeping your leg straight, tighten your leg muscles and slowly lift it several inches. Tighten your stomach muscles to push your lower back down. Hold and count to five, then lower the leg as slowly as possible. Repeat, then switch to the other leg. Start with one set of four for each leg. This exercise strengthens the quadriceps, which are the large muscles on the front of your thigh that attach to your knee joint.
The Hamstring Stretch (Lying): Lie on the floor (or bed) with both legs bent. Slowly lift one leg, still bent, and bring your knee back toward your chest. Link your hands behind your thigh (not your knee) and straighten your leg. Pull your straight leg back toward your head until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then slowly bend your knee and lower your leg back to the floor. This exercise stretches and strengthens your hamstrings, which are the muscles on the back of the thigh that attach to the knee.
The Half-Squat: Standing with your feet shoulder-distance apart, stretch your arms out in front of you (hold on to a chair for balance, if necessary), and slowly bend your knees until you’re in a half-sitting position. Keep your back straight and chest lifted — don’t lean forward. With your feet flat on the floor, hold the position for five seconds, then slowly stand back up. Do 10 repetitions, and slowly work up to three sets of 10. This exercise strengthens the muscles in the front and back of your thighs, along with the gluteus (buttocks).
The One-Leg Dip: Standing between two chairs, holding on to them for balance, lift one leg about 12 inches and hold it out in front of you. Slowly, keeping your back straight, bend the other leg and lower your body a few inches, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Don’t cross the lifted leg in front of the bent leg. Hold for five seconds and straighten back up. Repeat and switch legs. Start with one set of four leg dips for both legs, and slowly work up to three sets. This exercise strengthens the muscles in the front and back of your thighs, as well as your buttocks.
The Leg Stretch: Sit on the floor with both legs out straight. Stabilize yourself with your hands on either side of your hips, keeping your back straight. Slowly bend one knee until it feels stretched, but not until it becomes painful. Hold the leg in that position for five seconds, then slowly straighten your leg out as far as you can, again holding for five seconds. Repeat, switching legs whenever one begins to tire, 10 times. This exercise strengthens the quadriceps, which are the muscles on the front of the thigh.