Have knee osteoarthritis? Hit the weights!


Osteoarthritis of the knee is an extremely common condition, affecting over one-third of people over 65 years old. The condition is a degenerative joint disease that, over time, erodes the articular cartilage, causes hypertrophy of bone margins resulting in osteophytes (small boney growths), and subchondral bone formation, which decreases the gap of the knee joint. The level of pain experienced can vary, but there are key interventions that can alleviate some of the pain. In this article, we will focus on the importance of strength training and how to do it.


Muscle weakness can perpetuate the negative effects of knee osteoarthritis, and it has been shown that muscle mass and strength decline significantly over time. With inactivity osteoarthritis results in crepitus, swelling, and limpness in the joint, leading to more pain.


Strength training offers multiple benefits to osteoarthritis sufferers by contributing to weight loss, strengthening muscles, improved body mechanics, and reducing strain on the joints. Strength training has been shown to be a critical player in weight loss, and can be even more effective than cardio. Losing weight can help take stress off the knee joint, and once you start lifting and seeing results, the relief will make it hard to turn back! When your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles become stronger, they take the bulk of the weight out of the knee and reduce the amount of pressure on the knee joint. Strengthening these muscles also improves body mechanics – getting out of chairs or bed in the morning will no longer be a challenge.


A good warm-up is very important in priming muscles. Although your workouts can vary throughout the week, make sure to include going through all the ranges of motion of the knee and hip as a primer before lifting any weight. Also, include 5-10 minutes of cardio that increases your heart rate prior to working out. Make sure the cardio you choose is appropriate for your arthritis and does not aggravate the joint further. Swimming and low impact cardio are great options!


Listen to your body – start slow and build over time to avoid injury.  Start with 4-5 reps and gradually progress to 10-15. Start at a low weight, or even just body weight, and slowly progress to adding weight to your exercises. Here are a few beginner exercises to start your strength training routine:


Exercise 1

Straight leg raises: This exercise strengthens the quadriceps muscles. If lying is a challenge, start in a chair and raise the leg. If this becomes easy, increase repetitions then add ankle weights for increased strength.

knee arthritis

Exercise 2

Hamstring curls: This exercise strengthens the hamstrings. Once this exercise becomes easier, increase repetitions and progress to adding ankle weights. When the ankle weights are no longer a challenge, you can use an exercise ball while lying on your back to do hamstring curls.

knee and arthritis



Exercise 3

Wall Squats: This exercise strengthens your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles. Once this exercise becomes easy, increase hold time then progress to squats without the wall. If squats are not performed correctly they can put unwanted pressure on the knees, so booking a session with a personal trainer can be a great idea to help you perfect these movements and avoid pain.


wall squat


Exercise 4

Step-ups: This exercise strengthens gluteus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Once this becomes easy, increase reps and progress to holding weights while you step-up.


Exercise 5

Calf Raises: This exercise targets your calves. Once this becomes easy, increase reps and progress to weighted calf raises, using a weight in each hand and/or ankle weights.




Always finish your workout with a strategic stretch. Stretching can also help your arthritis pain by improving your flexibility and movement patterns. Be sure to stretch out all of the muscles you used in your workout. Listening to your body is important, so if you experience, pain stop and readjust or stop the exercise completely. As mentioned, a session with a good personal trainer can be very beneficial.


Dr. Nikole MacLellan, ND, RD, CISSN, BSc AHN, B. Comm




Lange AK, Vanwanseele B, Fiatarone singh MA. Strength training for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: A systematic review. Arthritis Care & Research. 2008;59(10):1488–1494



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