How To Exercise With Bad Knees To Lose Weight

Persistent knee pain is a debilitating condition that is especially evident in the aging population. It affects approximately 25% of older adults (aged 55 years or older) and leads to limited function and mobility¹.

Over a 20-year period, data from six National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) showed that the prevalence of knee pain substantially increased over time, partially attributing it to the growing global obesity epidemic¹ ².

Arthritis describes conditions that affect the joints, or tissues around the joints, causing a significant amount of pain and stiffness³. There are more than a hundred different types of arthritis, with an estimated 59 million US adults diagnosed with a form of arthritis from 2013 to 2015⁴.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the United States³ ⁵ and the most frequent cause of disability in older adults¹.

As a natural part of the aging process, knee joints are prone to degeneration. Apart from age, there are numerous risk factors associated with knee osteoarthritis including⁶:

  • Obesity

  • Knee injury

  • Physical labor

  • Overuse of the knee joints

  • Potential genetic or lifestyle/environmental factors

Interestingly, research to date shows that women are more likely to have arthritic pain than men¹ ⁷.

Chronic knee pain is debilitating and makes it difficult to keep fit. Exercise, however, is important for people with bad or weak knees as it can serve to restore knee function and reduce pain. 

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Why should people with bad knees exercise?

Overweight or obese people have a greater chance of developing knee pain or osteoarthritis than those who are of a healthy weight. This is because the excess weight or body fat exerts a significant amount of pressure on the weak joints, exacerbating pain.

Unfortunately, there is no cure or magic drug for knee pain. Some people resort to knee replacement therapy but it is a temporary solution for a chronic condition.

Provides relief from symptoms

Exercise is a cheap yet effective way to help bad knees⁸ ⁹. It may relieve symptoms like swelling and stiffness of the knee, boost mobility around the affected joint area, and strengthen the muscles around the knee.

Better outcomes and fewer side effects

Physical activity for arthritic knee pain is more recommended than pharmacological or surgical interventions. This is not only due to better outcomes, but also because you can avoid the risk of serious side effects associated with pain medication and surgery⁸. Research also shows that exercise therapy may be more effective in staggering the progression of knee osteoarthritis⁹.

Weight loss

An added benefit of exercise is weight loss. Reducing the weight load can ease knee pain and allow the joint to heal. A randomized trial showed that the combination of exercise and modest weight loss (an average of ten pounds) reduced knee pain and improved physical function of the knee in patients with knee osteoarthritis¹⁰.

Maintaining a healthy weight and being regularly active is the perfect combination for stronger, less painful knees.

Safe and helpful exercises for bad knees

Studies show that people with knee arthritis have weak quadriceps (main muscles that support the knees)¹¹ ¹². The weakening of these muscles accelerates the wear and tear of the knee. Therefore, low-impact exercises that help with quad strengthening may be effective in alleviating knee joint pain. 

1. Walking

Longer, slower walks may have a positive impact on knee pain¹³. Not only can this help with burning calories and losing weight, but it also pumps the blood throughout your body to strengthen muscles like your quadriceps.

2. Swimming or water exercise

Exercising in the water may also be an effective way of strengthening the knee muscles. This is due to water buoyancy relieving pressure on your knee joints whilst moving.

One study¹⁴ observed significantly reduced joint pain and stiffness in middle-aged and older adults with osteoarthritis as well as improved muscle strength and functional capacity. 

3. Home-based exercises

A randomized trial suggested that home-based exercises such as simple flexing or extending the knee against resistance may be effective in reducing osteoarthritic knee pain¹⁵.

Stationary cycling is an alternative way to work out as it is relatively safe. Research has demonstrated increased overall pain relief and aerobic capacity in affected patients when performing exercises over time¹⁴ ¹⁶.

Everyone has different underlying medical conditions and variable levels of pain and fitness. Therefore, not all exercises will necessarily work for everybody. Consult your doctor or physiotherapist to discuss what activity is most suitable for you.

Tips for exercising with bad knees

  • Stretch and warm up before and after the workout as it can help relieve or prevent stiffness in the knee and surrounding muscles

  • Start exercising slowly, then build up tolerance by increasing the duration of the workout or repetitiveness of the exercises

  • Follow your healthcare professional’s advice on what exercises are good for you

  • Immediately stop any movement that makes the pain worse

  • Avoid any high-intensity exercises such as jumping, running, or jump-roping as they may exert a large amount of pressure on the knee that could exacerbate pain

The lowdown

Knee osteoarthritis is a chronic, debilitating condition affecting a significant proportion of aging adults globally. There are numerous risks associated with knee pain conditions – a major one being obesity.

Exercise therapy is highly recommended by health professionals as it is cheap and avoids potentially harmful side effects following medicated treatment or surgery. Not only can different types of exercise help to relieve knee joint pain, but it also has the added benefit of aiding weight loss.

Talk with your doctor or physiotherapist to discuss what kind of exercises may help relieve your knee pain.

Have you considered clinical trials for Weight management?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Weight management, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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