5 Exercises to Help Improve Your Knee Pain & Why Exercise is Good for Osteoarthritis

5 Exercises to Help Improve Your Knee Pain & Why Exercise is Good for Osteoarthritis

We love when clients ask questions during our sessions!

It leads to great conversation and exploration and it’s an opportunity for insight, education and connection. 

But this isn’t about why we love questions, it’s about a specific question we get at the clinic all the time. 

Recently, while talking to a client  about the benefits of exercise to help manage osteoarthritis and knee pain and they asked: 

“ If osteoarthritis is causing degeneration in my knees, won't exercise, especially anything with impact, just make it worse?” 

This is SUCH a great question! 

And we really do get it all the time. Just the other day someone asked it during a presentation one of our physiotherapists Miriam,  was doing on hip and knee osteoarthritis. 

So if you’ve been wondering too, you are not alone!  

It can seem counterintuitive that exercise helps decrease pain, especially if you experience pain with certain movements. 

Because of this, many people  with knee pain are hesitant to do exercise, or certain exercises because they think it's going to make their knees hurt, or cause damage and make things worse in the long run.

And look- we get it! We understand why someone (maybe even you) would have that concern.

There’s a lot of messaging out there that tells you to be careful with your joints as you age, and to be especially careful if there's anything “wrong” like arthritis or a previous injury. Messages of fear, with a heavy sprinkle of fragility abound! 

There's lots of talk of break down and degeneration, and, if there’s breakdown happening, why would you want to keep moving it?

Afterall, if your door hinge was breaking down you wouldn’t aggressively open and close it a bunch of times, you’d be gentle with it right? You’d avoid moving it so that it wouldn't break.

Add to those messages of fragility and comparisons of your joints to machines, talk of certain exercises being bad for your joints and it's no wonder being told that exercise can improve your pain is confusing. 

But here’s the thing -  your joints are not door hinges or machines. 
And exercises like running, jumping and squats are not bad for knees.
And the truth is your joints LOVE movement, they NEED movement!  

One of the worst things you can do for osteoarthritis and knee pain (and… many other conditions, but that’s a conversation for another day) is to stop moving and exercising!

Let’s explore this a little more. 

Why is Exercise Good for Knee Pain & Osteoarthritis?

     Physiotherapist at Fit For Life Physiotherapy in Burlington works one on one with clients and use exercise and other modalities to improve knee pain and manage osteoarthritis. Wall ball squats are a great exercise to strengthen legs and help reduce knee pain.

So why IS exercise good for osteoarthritis? And will exercise cause more damage, or make your knee pain worse? 

Research does not support claims that exercise damages your knees, causes arthritis or makes arthritis worse. 

And in fact - there is research that suggests the exact opposite.  

A systemic review &  meta analysis (this type of study gathers the research on a specific topic, and then combines the results to help us see what the collective data shows)  in JOSPT (Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy) looked at the occurrence of hip and knee osteoarthritis in competitive runners, recreational runners, and a control group.    

Guess which group had the lowest occurrence of osteoarthritis? The recreational runners! 

What’s more is that there was only a small (less than 5%) difference in the rate of  occurrence between competitive runners and the control groups. This means that a certain dosage of exercise may actually be protective against osteoarthritis. 

And that’s not all. 

Researchers in Denmark developed an exercise program (GLA:D) designed for people experiencing hip and knee pain from osteoarthritis. The program has been a huge success, shown great results, and has been helping people decrease knee pain and improve function for over a decade!

The GLA:D program has now gone international (in fact it's made it's way all the way to our clinic!) and researchers continue to gather data and make adjustments to the program. 

Now these are just a couple of examples, but they show that research just does not support claims that exercise causes or makes joint degeneration worse. 

This doesn’t mean that people don’t have knee pain when they exercise, that does happen, but sweeping statements about exercise being bad for your knees just don’t hold up. 

If you’re experiencing knee pain with exercise, an adjustment is needed - the answer is not to throw all exercise out the window! Part of the success of the GLA:D program is that the exercises are adjusted to suit each individuals needs - it's a personalized program in a group setting. So if you are experiencing pain with exercise instead of stopping all exercise, get assessed by one of our physiotherapists, and they’ll help you adjust and find the exercises that work for you. 

Now let’s look at WHY exercise is good for osteoarthritis. 

We don’t have all the mechanisms figured out yet, but what we see in research and clinically is that exercise helps decrease pain and improve function, and we do know some of the reasons it helps. 

Here’s what we do know about why exercise is good for knee pain & osteoarthritis:

  • Movement helps joints stay lubricated & nourished -  as our physiotherapist Lesley always says “Motion is lotion!”
  • Exercise helps decrease inflammation - inflammation can contribute to pain and can limit mobility of the joint 
  • Muscles support the joints, so maintaining & improving strength helps support joint structure & function 
  • Some studies suggest that exercise may help promote cartilage building activity and anti break down activity, more research is needed but this points to exercise having a protective effect against joint degeneration   

Exercise is a first line treatment for osteoarthritis and for good reason! It works! 

So if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or you’re dealing with knee pain, exercise should absolutely be part of your treatment and management strategy. 

Now where should you start? We’ve got that covered! 

5 Exercises to Help Improve Your Knee Pain 

Exercise is not a one size fits all approach, but in general when it comes to knee pain, strengthening the hip muscles, quads, hamstrings, and improving balance are all key components.  

So incorporating exercises that help strengthen those areas is a good place to start! 

Here are 5 exercises for you to try: 



Hip Abduction 

Hamstring Curl


Hip Extension 

Try 10 reps with good technique. 
By rep 8-9-10 you should feel some fatigue - if not, you may need a more challenging exercise. 
Start with 1 set, if you can do it with good technique try a 2nd or 3rd set (with a break between!).

Exercise is not a one and done kind of thing. Consistency is KEY!
Get into a routine. Aim for doing these exercises 3-4 times per week. 

A Few things to remember: 

  • If  any of the exercises make your pain worse, stop. 
  • It’s okay for the exercises to feel challenging, in fact they should feel a little hard! 
  • You should be able to do the exercises with good technique, you shouldn’t need to contort your body - if you have to contort or there’s an increase in pain it’s time for a different variation 
  • If you’re not feeling any fatigue after 3 sets, and you’re able to do the exercises with good technique,  it’s time for a more challenging variation! 

These exercises are a great jumping off point - but remember, not everyone with osteoarthritis and knee pain experiences the same symptoms or limitations, or has the same goals. And even if your knee pain is similar to someone else's, you are a unique individual with your own history and circumstances, so a generalised program may not cut it. 

Working with a physiotherapist or kinesiologist can help! They can help build, and progress a program around your specific needs and goals, and coach you on how to perform the exercises for the most benefit. They also have other tools and modalities that can be used in conjuction with exercise to help reduce your pain. 

Knee pain and osteoarthritis don’t have to stop you in your tracks! Exercise can help reduce your pain, improve your function and keep you doing the things you love.

Don't let knee pain hold you back for a minute more. Try the exercises above and if you're interested in a more personalized approach or continue to experience knee pain, book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists so you can start feeling better. 

Our physiotherapists have been helping people in Burlington improve their knee pain for over a decade, and we’ve been voted best physiotherapy clinic in Burlington for 11 years!    

We are here and ready to help you improve your knee pain so you can get back to living life! 

Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Pain

Can Physiotherapy help with knee pain? 

YES! Whether it’s from an injury, osteoarthritis or it just snuck up on you, physiotherapy can help reduce your knee pain. 

What can I do to relieve knee pain?

Ice, heat, and elevation can provide some short term relief, but to feel better long term you’ll need a good exercise program, and will benefit from some professional guidance - our team is here to help. Our physiotherapists and kinesiologist have been helping people in Burlington and Aldershot relieve their knee pain for over a decade. When you’re ready, we’re here to help! 

How do I know if my knee pain is serious? 

If your knee pain is keeping you from doing the things you love, if it’s stopping you in your tracks, if you find yourself thinking about it or feeling it all day long it’s serious enough to get it addressed! Without properly assessing you we can’t tell what the underlying issue is, an in depth assessment with one of our physiotherapists will help determine what’s going on, and what can be done to help.