With so much attention
paid to heart health, few people realize that the risk for disability from
osteoarthritis (OA)—a degenerative joint disease—is just as significant as cardiovascular disease.
In fact, OA of the knee is one of the five leading causes of disability among
older women and men.
The most common type of arthritis, OA is characterized by a breakdown of
cartilage in almost any joint in the body, although it’s most frequently seen
in weight-bearing joints such as the spine, hips and knees. Symptoms of this
“wear-and-tear” condition include sore joints, pain after increased activity or
extended periods of inactivity, joint deformity, and fluid accumulation.
One out of three people ages 63 to 94 will develop knee OA, but women are at greater risk than men. Other people at risk include
overweight individuals, people with a history of trauma to the knee, or those
whose jobs require heavy kneeling or squatting.
While treatment—including physical therapy, weight loss,
pain-relieving drugs, anti-inflammatory injections and surgery—is tailored to
each patient, experts agree that stretching is a vital component to any OA
treatment plan. Stretching can help improve functioning, increase range of
motion, and relieve discomfort.
Grab a mat, towel, or
strap and read on for four easy knee moves that can be done at the gym or in the comfort of your
Standing Calf Stretch
Stand facing a wall with your right leg in front of you and your left
leg behind. Placing your hands on the wall for support, slowly bend your right
front knee and lean into the wall, pressing the left heel to the floor. Once
you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle, hold for 30 seconds, and then
slowly relax. Repeat the stretch twice more before switching sides and repeating.
Bonus: A study
in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that knee OA patients who performed standing calf stretches as
part of an overall exercise routine experienced improved function and reported less pain and stiffness than those who
Seated Hip March
Sitting up straight in a chair, slightly kick your
left foot back a few inches underneath the chair, keeping toes on the floor for
support. Lift your right foot off the floor, keeping knee bent at a 90-degree
angle. Hold your right leg in the air for five seconds, and then slowly lower
back to the ground. Repeat 10 times. Alternate legs and do another 10 on each
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics study found that stronger thigh
muscles can protect women against knee OA symptoms.
Lying face down, bend your right knee and grab your ankle with your
right hand. (You may want to rest your forehead on your left forearm for
support.) Gently pull your right foot towards your buttocks until you feel a
gentle stretch in the thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before slowly
lowering your leg. Repeat two more times (for a total of three times), switch
sides, and repeat.
Bonus: A study
in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients with OA of the knee who performed this exercise as
part of an overall routine experienced improved function and reported less pain and stiffness than those who
Lie down on your back with both knees bent. Loop a towel or strap around
your right foot and, holding onto the strap for support, extend and elevate
your right leg to a 45-degree angle. Once you feel a gentle stretch in your
right hamstring (behind the knee and thigh), hold for 30 seconds. Slowly lower
and repeat two more times, switch sides, and repeat.
Bonus: A 2010 study in the
journal Physiotherapy found that hamstring stretching led to significant increases
in knee extension range of motion in subjects with knee osteoarthritis.
doing these exercises, go at your own pace. If you experience pain during these
stretches, stop and talk to your doctor during your next visit to see what he
or she recommends.