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How to Strengthen Your Knee Joints Through Exercise

12th November 2020

By Professor Leif Dahlberg, co-founder of Joint Academy, a digital clinic for treating chronic joint pain that will be available to the UK in 2021.

The knee joints are subjected to a considerable load over time, with the risk of developing chronic joint pain and osteoarthritis increasing if knees carry more weight than your muscles are able to support.

However, you needn’t simply accept arthritic pain - you can counter this by strengthening your knee joints so they can continue to take the load of walking and exercise. It is a common myth that osteoarthritis is caused by natural ageing and attrition, which can sentence you to a sedentary lifestyle.

Instead, fight back and reduce your symptoms by performing individualised exercises to manage the daily load. To prevent further development of osteoarthritis in the knee, you should strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, in the thigh and around the hip. These muscles can then carry some of the load that otherwise would have been carried by the joint, allowing the cartilage to rebuild.

Start exercising, but take baby steps

It’s important to keep in mind that the exercises shouldn’t be too complicated and that they should be performed in a correct manner. You may experience some pain when you start your exercise routine, but relax, there’s no danger in exercising as long as pain does not exceed five on a scale of 10, and the added pain is gone by the next day.

If you feel unsure, consult a physiotherapist. Technique is equally important and a physical therapist can help you with this.

Remember that a big change starts by taking small steps, and repeating them every day. Time goes by fast. Soon, when you feel confident with your new exercise habits, you will have gained strength to perform two-three sets of these suggested exercises.

Two exercises for knee osteoarthritis

The step exercise

With the help of a small stool or step you’ll be able to train both balance and strength. Start by climbing up with one foot on the step and then climb up with the other foot. Then climb back the same way (backwards). Try to keep a good posture throughout the exercise and make sure your knees point straight over your toes. Alternate the foot stepping up first. Repeat 10-15 times per side. The greater height of the step makes the exercise more difficult, while a decreased height is easier.

The leg kick

Sit straight on a chair with a backrest. Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees when your feet are on the floor. Lift one foot up and stretch your knee as much as you can and if possible keep it stretched for five-10 seconds. Lower the leg back to its starting position. Repeat this 15 times, then alternate sides. If you want to increase the difficulty, use a resistance band or a weight around the ankle.

You don’t need to go to the gym in order to strengthen your knee joints. Two to three exercises daily for five-10 minutes can take you a long way. New research from Lund University shows that a few simple daily exercises coupled with some education leads to patients with osteoarthritis being able to halve their pain in six months - and greatly increase their physical function.

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