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Best Exercises for Knee Arthritis to Ease Pain and Stiffness

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By Babafemi Adebajo
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Edited by Kelli Harris

Updated December 8, 2022.

Man holding knee with red-highlighted spot to indicate pain

When you have stiff and painful joints, exercising is not likely to be the first thing that crosses your mind. Nevertheless, exercise is good for arthritis in the knees as it can help reduce joint stiffness, increase strength and flexibility, relieve joint pain, and slow down joint degradation.

The Causes of Knee Arthritis

Some of the most common causes of osteoarthritis are:

  • Normal progressive joint degradation that occurs with age
  • Genetics
  • Regular and repetitive stress injury
  • Infection
  • Obesity
  • Gender
  • Other comorbidity factors, such as metabolic disorders

Best Outdoor Exercises for Knee Arthritis

Most people who have knee osteoarthritis will benefit from aerobic exercises. Despite the knee pain and joint stiffness, low-impact aerobic exercises are safe. They can also be tailored to the patient, the severity of the pain, and the fitness level. Here are some of the best exercises for painful knees with arthritis.

Brisk Walking

While exercises like running and jogging place extra strain on the knee, brisk walking only minimally strains your knee, making it a perfect exercise if you have knee osteoarthritis. For starters, ensure you perform your walk on a smooth surface. You may also walk briskly on a treadmill (without inclining it).

However you choose to perform your brisk walk, you should use a shoe that guarantees both support and comfort. Also, progressively increase the walking intensity as the pain and stiffness subside. You can start with flat surfaces and progress to rougher terrains.


Swimming may be the best outdoor exercise for osteoarthritis. While you should avoid breaststrokes, the front crawl and backstroke are good if you have osteoarthritis. These techniques limit sideways movement, reducing pressure on your knee.

Also, the water supports your body weight, further reducing stress on your knee as you move. It also provides a counterforce to movement, improving muscle strength and range of motion.


Whether outdoors or on a stationary machine, biking is an ideal exercise for knee arthritis as it doesn’t overload your knees. Pedals can be set to ensure your knees do not exceed an angle of 90 degrees to reduce the strain. Likewise, free riding is encouraged when starting the regimen. Over time, you can incorporate resistance as the pain subsides.

Best At-Home Stretching & Mobility Exercises for Knee Arthritis

The best mobility and stretching exercises can be done anywhere and without assistance. They’re easy, convenient, produce results, and don’t require special equipment.

Straight Leg Raise

SLRs strengthen the quadriceps, which are the powerful extensors of the knee joint. To perform this exercise correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Lie flat on your back on the floor or bed with your arms at your sides and your toes pointing upwards.
  2. Slowly lift your leg while keeping your knees straight and your stomach tight.
  3. Hold when you feel a stretch and then slowly take your leg down.
  4. Repeat at least three times, then switch to the second leg.

Woman demonstrating how to perform straight leg raise exercises

Woman demonstrating how to perform straight leg raises while standing

Half Squat

The half squat strengthens the extensors and flexors of the knee, along with the gluteus.

To perform this exercise correctly:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms stretched out.
  2. Keep your back straight and your feet flat, then bend your knees until you’re in a half-sitting position.
  3. Hold your position for 5 seconds before standing back up slowly.

Woman demonstrating how to perform half squat exercises

Half Squat Exercise Demonstration By Man

Hamstring Stretch

  1. Lie on the floor or bed with your back to the ground, knees bent, and feet flat.
  2. Bring your left knee back toward your chest, steadying the motion with your hands behind your thigh.
  3. Straighten your left leg and pull the straight leg back toward your head until you feel the stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then release the leg and repeat the process with the other leg.

Woman demonstrating how to stretch your hamstring

Woman demonstrating how to stretch hamstrings

How To Prevent the Progression of Knee Arthritis

The first step is to receive an accurate diagnosis from your doctor who can advise you about future treatment.

Otherwise, there are lifestyle changes you can implement. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar, and eating a proper diet (including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats).

Do the right exercises and avoid activities that cause flare-ups and worsen knee arthritis. This includes:

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Squatting
  • Resistance training

Finally, make sure you wear the right shoes and insoles while exercising. This will reduce the impact of each step, cushion your feet, keep it neutrally aligned, and relieve pain. It will also reduce any additional risk of injury and make your exercises more comfortable.

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