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Best Exercise Equipment for Knee Osteoarthritis

23rd February 2022

The positive effects of exercise on knee osteoarthritis have been proven several times (1)(2). However, that does not mean all types of exercise will have the same effect. In particular, it is crucial to put minimum pressure on the already-degrading knee cartilage.

Whether you exercise from home or subscribe to a gym, aerobic equipment is one of the most effective ways to activate your leg muscles without putting too much pressure through the knee. So, which types of aerobic equipment can help achieve an effective and low-impact exercise routine?

Stationary (Recumbent) Bikes

Stationary bikes are the go-to options for working the lower body with minimum to no impact on the knees. Unlike many aerobic equipment, they are not weight-bearing, which means your knee would not carry the rest of your body during the exercise session.

They come with ergonomic seats that help you retain a proper posture, protecting your hips and spine from further damage. Depending on the level of knee pain and your fitness levels, you can easily adjust the positioning and resistance of your stationary bike. Keep in mind that your knees should be slightly bent and foot flexed while pedaling. We would also caution you against using pedal straps because this could limit the coordination in your leg muscles and put pressure on your knees.

Stationary exercise bike


Treadmill

As revitalising for the body and the mind as it is, walking outdoors could put extra pressure on your knees because of harsh surfaces like pavements and uneven surfaces. When you walk on a treadmill, the belt under your foot will absorb the shock and provide cushioning, thereby reducing the impact on your knees. Plus, you can adjust the inclination and speed as you please.

You might want to start slow and gradually increase the speed, remembering that running on a treadmill could worsen the pain. Short intervals of gentle walks will help you build stamina in the legs. If you continue to have pain, you could consider a knee brace or injections.

Elliptical

An elliptical machine provides the opportunity for a full-body workout without putting too much strain on the knees. Despite being weight-bearing, it is considered low-impact because your feet always remain on the platform while moving in an elliptical trajectory. With an elliptical machine, you can improve cardiac health and circulation throughout the body while also burning calories.

We highly recommend elliptical machines with handles because they allow simultaneous workout of both the upper and the lower body. In other words, you can move several muscle groups in your body at once to build a better support system for the knees.

This equipment also provides seamless flexibility. You can switch from moving handles to stationary ones or adjust workout intensity depending on how your knee feels.

When using an elliptical for OA, it is important to note the stride length, the maximum distance between the pedals. The smaller the stride length, the higher the impact on the knee is. That’s why, you need to make sure that the stride length of the elliptical is at least 20 inches.

Is a Rowing Machine Good for Knee Osteoarthritis?

Rowing machines are tricky for knee-osteoarthritis. On the bright side, they help strengthen your quadriceps and hamstrings for a robust support system around the knee. However, it is no surprise that they put stress on your knees as they make you bend and flex your knees repetitively to carry your body weight.

After getting approval from your doctor about the use of a rowing machine, you should always start without resistance and gradually increase it as you go. For better coordination between the upper and the lower body, you should opt for machines with a bar handle instead of the ones with individual cables.

Rowing machine

The Verdict

While regular exercise has numerous benefits for preventing and/or treating knee osteoarthritis, intense workouts with some aerobic equipment could reverse the benefits. You should always check with your doctor as to whether or not you follow the most suitable routine for you. You might need to revise the routine if exercising with a particular equipment is causing one of the following:

  • Excessive knee bending during the workout session
  • Having to carry your body weight
  • Increased and prolonged joint pain post-workout.
  • Increased stiffness


  • Hunter, David J., and Felix Eckstein. "Exercise and osteoarthritis." Journal of anatomy 214.2 (2009): 197-207.
  • Brosseau, Lucie, et al. "Efficacy of aerobic exercises for osteoarthritis (part II): a meta-analysis." Physical Therapy Reviews 9.3 (2004): 125-145.

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