Knee osteoarthritis is a very common problem. As I have reviewed in previous blogs, and as I detail in my book, The Arthritis Handbook: Improve Your Health and Manage the Pain of Osteoarthritis, treating osteoarthritis should include several basic steps, including an appropriate anti-inflammatory diet, exercises, and often supplements. Exercising should ideally include three parts:
(3) aerobic conditioning
Always check with your doctor prior to starting any new exercise program to make sure it is safe for you to participate. In this blog, I am going to review some basic, high yield stretching exercises that are geared particularly towards patients with knee osteoarthritis. Please check with your doctor before trying any of these exercises to make sure it is safe for you to do so.
First, some stretching basics.
- Stretching should never be painful. If you feel pain, stop and talk to your doctor or physical therapist as you are either doing the stretch incorrectly or pushing yourself too far, which may result in injury.
- Anyone can stretch. Sometimes a patient tells me, “I can’t stretch. I have always been tight and I can’t get any looser.” This is simply not true. While a 60 year old man who have never stretched before will probably never achieve the flexibility of a 19 year old gymnast, that 60 year old man can still make significant and therapeutically significant gains for him in terms of his flexibility.
- Stretch symmetrically. Even if only one side hurts, make sure you stretch both sides of your body to achieve symmetry and balance, which will be important in preventing injury in the future.
All of the following stretches are taken from my book, The Arthritis Handbook: Improve Your Health and Manage the Pain of Osteoarthritis. In the book, there are also pictures and further instructions clearly documenting the stretches.
Stretching the hamstrings is very important in knee osteoarthritis. Try standing with your legs shoulder-width apart. Bend forward slowly, keeping your back straight and knees with less than a 5 degree bend in them. Reach out for the ground with your palms and try to touch the floor. Feel the gentle stretch in the back of your thighs. Remember that stretching should not cause pain If you feel pain, stop. Remember also that keeping good form is more important than touching the floor. If you bend from your lower back or bend your knees then you will indeed be able to reach lower but you may hurt yourself and you won’t get as good a stretch n your hamstrings.
For this hamstring stretch, you may find it helpful at first to place a chair in front of you as you reach down for the floor. This way, you are really reaching down for the chair. If you can’t reach the chair with your hands without breaking form then consider placing pillows on the chair until you can reach over and touch the pillows. Once you can do that, remove the pillows. Once you can reach the chair, remove the chair and reach down for the floor.
Don’t push yourself too fast with your stretching. Remember that form is foremost!
Stretching the quadriceps is also very important in knee osteoarthritis. Try standing in front of a chair. Bend one knee and rest your lower leg on the chair in back of you. Lean into your thigh to stretch the front of your thigh.
Stretching the hip flexors is also important. A good way to stretch the hip flexors is to kneel on both knees. Bend your right leg in front of you with the knee flexed to 90 degrees and your foot flat on the ground. Don’t allow your right knee to bend forward past the toes of your right foot as you flex the knee. Keep your abdominal muscles tight to protect your spine as you do this exercise. Feel the stretch in your left hip flexors (the top of your front thigh). Hold the pose for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.