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The Best Exercise Equipment for Arthritic Knees

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/7/2011

The best exercise equipment for arthritic knees can usually be observed in the gym of a physiotherapy department whilst undergoing knee exercises. The equipment is used to strengthen a knee joint that has become swollen and inflamed due to arthritis, without causing further damage.

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    Arthritic knees are one of the most common effects of arthritis, quickly becoming inflamed, swollen, painful, and stiff. Arthritic knees can be treated using various knee exercise equipment either at the gymnasium or at home. Regardless of the location, exercising equipment should only be used on the advice of a professional physiotherapist who has experience in working on patients with arthritic joints.

    This is an article on Arthritis, Joint & Rheumatic Conditions and in particular the best exercise equipment for arthritic knees.

    We begin with an overview of the arthritic knee, and the exercises to be avoided in order not to exacerbate the condition.

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    Arthritic Knees – an Overview

    The knee is a normally stable hinge-type joint, formed where the femur and tibia bones meet and being covered with the patella (kneecap), all held together and securely in place by four major ligaments.

    The ends of the femur and tibia bones as well as the inside surface of the patella are covered with articular cartilage that allows the normal joint to operate smoothly and frictionless with the minimum of effort.

    However, arthritis eats away at this cartilage allowing the two bones and patella to contact each other and this is when one hears a grinding noise whilst moving the knee back and forth. This cartilage loss also causes the swelling and inflammation around a usually hot arthritic knee joint.

    The articular cartilage also acts as a shock absorber, so certain exercises should be avoided, these include;

    • All contact sports, including football
    • Hill walking
    • Jogging
    • Ascending and descending stairs or using a stair climber
    • Squatting/kneeling exercising
    • Treadmills

    A sketch of a healthy knee joint is shown below (please click on images to enlarge);

    Normal Knee Joint 

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    The Best Exercise Equipment for Arthritic Knees

    The purpose of exercising the arthritic knee joint is to reduce swelling, increase range of movement, and flexibility, promoting knee stability whilst reducing pain.

    The best equipment for exercising arthritic knees should produce a smooth motion of the knee with minimal bending. This will promote the strengthening of quadriceps, stabilizing the knee without any impact to the joint.

    It is important that medical advice and instruction is sought before purchasing or using any exercise equipment.

    A listing and description of the best exercise equipment for arthritic knees follows;

    1. Hydrotherapy Pool

    • This is one of the best examples of equipment for arthritic knees; the hot water supporting the weight of the body and allowing the exercise of the knee underwater with less pain.

    2. Quadriceps Exercising Equipment

    • Sliding board and Grommet

    This equipment is used to build up the quadriceps, a very important set of muscles that support the kneecap and control the knee joint. The exercises are carried out whilst lying on one's back and sliding the foot back and forth on the board, the heel being supported by a cloth grommet. This action causes the knee to rise and fall, controlled by the quad muscles as shown below.

    Quads Exercises Using Sliding Board 

    • Rubber Raise

    This is a semicircular hard molded rubber raise being put under the knee joint whilst lying on a flat surface. Pressing down on the raise with the underside of the knee causes the foot to lift off the surface thus strengthening the quadriceps, as shown below.

    Quads Exercises Using Raise 

    • Ankle Weights

    These are lead weights contained in a cloth bag which are strapped to one’s ankle whilst carrying out exercises on the rubber raise. This increases the effort to lift the foot off the surface, more weights being added when the knee joint is stronger.

    3. Rubber Resistance Bands

    • These come in different resistances and are color coded to identify the strengths of the bands. The bands are cut to length and placed under the foot, being held by both hands tightly. The knee is then bent and straightened, strengthening the knee joint.

    Quads Exercises Using Rubber Resistant Band 

    4. Stationary Bicycle

    • This exercise equipment is also known as a recumbent bike, and incorporates an adjustable friction brake. This allows the patient to vary the load being applied through the knee joint, the resistance can be increased as the knee joints become stronger.

    5. Mini-exercise Bike

    • This is also a good inexpensive example of the best exercise equipment for arthritic knees. It consists of two pedals incorporated in a sturdy frame that is located on the floor in front of the patient. The patient sits on a chair, and after inserting the feet in the pedal stirrups commences to rotate the pedals, the exerciser again having an adjustable friction brake. This equipment is small, compact, and easily stored compared to an exercise bicycle.

    6. Cross-country Ski Machine

    • This equipment is normally used as a measure for overall fitness, rather than equipment for exercising arthritic knees. When the author tried out this equipment, it not only exercised the arthritic knees but also as a bonus strengthened the shoulder joints, that are scheduled to be replaced by surgery this year. One word of caution – it is easy to overdo the exercise; start with a 5 minute session, progressing to a maximum of 15 minutes a day, and even then only doing lower body exercises for the first three months or so.


    Before any knee exercises are carried out, it is advisable to apply ice packs for twenty minutes. Ice packs should not come in contact with bare skin; a wet cloth being placed between the ice pack and knee joint skin area.

    It is also advisable to elevate the legs above the level of one’s heart in order to promote the circulation of blood and drainage of fluid, whilst ice packs are being applied to the knee joints.

    For further information on knee exercises please click on this Bright Hub link.

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