Osteoarthritis of the knee: physical activity at the heart of its management


In osteoarthritis of the knee, regular and moderate physical activity is recommended to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Below are some tips to help you look after your knees by getting them moving.

The pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee can prompt you to reduce your level of physical activity and even avoid certain everyday tasks (walking up stairs, housework, travelling on foot, etc.). However, moving less diminishes your physical fitness, leading to loss of strength, stamina and flexibility and making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. That is why a lack of physical activity can actually make pain and stiffness worse!
Resuming physical activity and suitable exercises can break this vicious circle and increase your well-being considerably. It has been proven: regular physical exercise has positive effects on stiffness and pain due to OA of the knee and has a very low risk of adverse effects(1).

What are the best exercises and physical activity for me?

You are strongly advised to seek advice from your doctor and/or consult a physiotherapist before getting started. They will be able to recommend the most appropriate exercises and activities for your particular circumstances and preferences.

The recommended exercises differ depending on whether you have femorotibial osteoarthritis (between the femur and the tibia) or patellofemoral osteoarthritis (between the femur and the kneecap, also called the patella). What’s more, if you are overweight or obese, you should know that physical activity will improve your OA thanks to the resulting weight loss(2)

In all cases, the type of activity needs to be appropriate: exercise bike, swimming, walking and tai-chi are recommended, in particular. Generally speaking, gentle sports (qi-gong, yoga, stretching exercises, walking), which are accessible to even sedentary and elderly people, are ideal. On the other hand, some sports are usually contraindicated, such as ball sports and combat sports.(1).

Physical activity should usually combine :

•    specific exercises for osteoarthritis of the knee (muscle strengthening, balance, stretching, joint mobility, etc.);
•    endurance exercises: fast walking, for example, but also, in the event of painful flare-ups, exercise bike or exercises in the swimming pool (aquagym, swimming, etc.).

Expert advice to help you look after yourself:

•    Physical activities should be introduced gradually and be adapted to your circumstances;
•    Enjoyment is the secret to regular activity: choose exercises that you like doing; 
•    Depending on the individual, physical activity up to 3 times a week or for 30 minutes a day is recommended;
•    Wear comfortable sports clothes, suitable footwear and get your doctor to prescribe special insoles or a knee brace if necessary; 
•    Maintain a moderate level of activity that doesn’t get you out of breath;
•    If pain develops, stop the activity;
•    Remember to drink water regularly to keep yourself well hydrated.
If you have any questions, ask your doctor for advice.