Best Exercise Equipment for Arthritic Knees

Updated October 10, 2022
Young woman running and exercising on treadmill in gym.

Exercising your knees safely can be one way of helping arthritis pain. In fact, research consistently suggests that a good exercise program can make a significant difference in your mobility and quality of life if you struggle with knee pain. Low-impact aerobic exercise and strength training can both be very helpful.

Learn what types of exercise equipment are best for your arthritic knees, so you can reduce your pain and use your knees without as much pain. It is important that you discuss your new exercise regimen with your healthcare provider prior to using any type of exercise equipment, but these are some of the best equipment options to bring up at your next visit with your rheumatologist, surgeon, or family doctor.

Best Aerobic Equipment for Arthritic Knees

Because running and jumping may cause pain, doctors frequently recommend a low-impact workouts for those with knee arthritis. Choose a piece of athletic equipment that can give you a good aerobic workout without stressing your knees. The following are some of the best options.

Stationary Bikes

Stationary bikes, both recumbent and upright, are excellent pieces of equipment for people with arthritis in their knees. They work the lower body without impact. Depending on which version you use, they also require little to no weight bearing on your knees, which can help relieve some stress. Pick the right one with these tips:

  • Make sure you select a bike that has an adjustable, wide, cushioned seat.
  • You should be able to easily reach the pedals with your leg extended in front of you, with a slight bend in your knee and your foot flexed.
  • Consider selecting a bike that has lumber support and multiple levels of resistance for the most comfortable, customized workout.

For your safety, do not use the straps on the foot pedals. Not only will using them possibly cause you to use the incorrect leg muscles, but if you lose balance on the bike, your foot may stay in the pedal strap which could be detrimental if you fall.

Elliptical Machines

Rear view of a woman exercising on a cross trainer in a gym

Depending upon the way in which your knee tracks, you may find that the elliptical is perfect for your knees. This low-impact exercise has a more limited range of motion in the knee joint, which can help keep your knees moving fluidly. Elliptical machines are also weight bearing, which can help you develop stronger bones around the knees to help support them.

  • Choose an elliptical that has a long, 21-inch stride. This may be more comfortable for those with knee challenges.
  • Take some time to try the machine out in the store to see how it feels, or better yet, experiment with different machines at a local gym before you decide on the best one for you.
  • Look for a machine that allows you to adjust resistance as your knees and the muscles of your legs become stronger.

If you find, however, that your knees turn inward as you pedal, and this in turn causes you pain, you may want to avoid using the elliptical machine. For your safety you should avoid the pre-set programs on an elliptical machine. If the speed or incline changes too quickly, it could put you at risk of injury or falling.

Treadmills

Walking on treadmill

While running is not recommended for arthritic knees, walking on a treadmill can be a useful aerobic exercise for people with arthritis. Treadmills offer more cushion than hard pavement, and gentle inclines can help make the workout more challenging without being strenuous. This is a great option for continuing your walking routine when you live in a place with weather that may not always be ideal.

  • Look for a treadmill with a tread length that matches your stride. Typically, if you'll only be using it for walking, you won't need the longest options.
  • Choose a surface width that matches your body frame size. You need to be comfortable and feel stable walking on it.
  • Consider trying out some treadmills at your local gym or fitness center so you can see what kind of features you would like.

Start slowly, walking for five to 10 minutes at a time, as you build up strength and stamina. Use a walking treadmill at home for a comfortable indoor walk. For your safety avoid steep inclines which could cause excess stress on your knees.

Rowing Machine

woman working out on rowing machine at outdoor gym

Rowing machines offer an excellent cardio workout that will simultaneously work your upper and lower body. It provides a low impact workout, strengthens the back muscles and gets the heart pumping.

  • Be sure to choose a rowing machine with a bar handle versus the individual cables.
  • You also want one that uses air or fluid for resistance rather than weights which can be hard on the joints.
  • Again, it's nice to try out the options before you buy so you can ensure you pick a machine that fits your frame and needs.

Start at a low resistance to avoid injury as you get use to the mechanics of the machine. You can add more resistance as you get stronger. For your safety always sit upright and engage your core. Do not hunch your shoulders.

Best Strength Training Equipment for Arthritic Knees

The best exercise programs are the ones that incorporate some form of resistance training to help strengthen the muscles around the knee joints, and they can significantly reduce pain, keep the knees tracking properly, and expand and preserve your range of motion.

Leg Press Machine

Leg Press Exercise

A leg press machine can help to strengthen the entire leg without fear that you will go too far and injure your knees. These machines use weights that you can adjust as you get stronger.

Set the machine's weight plate within your knees' comfortable range of motion and begin with a light weight. For your safety, you should build up slowly, and as you gain strength, you can add more weight. Use a machine that allows you to adjust your upper body position to a comfortable incline.

Ankle Weights

Woman at gym putting ankle weights

Ankle weights are a great way to gain strength without stressing the knee joint. They come in different weights that you can adjust based on your stamina and strength. You can even get adjustable ankle weights.

Lay on your side with the weight on the top ankle. Keep your leg straight as you lift it from the hip. This will strengthen the muscles on the sides of the leg, which can help keep your knee tracking while not stressing it. For your safety, use light weights and if you feel the slightest stress on your knees discontinue use until your knees feel stronger.

Resistance Bands

Mid adult woman practicing stretching exercise with resistance band at home

Resistance bands can help you strengthen all the muscles in your leg without stressing the knee joint, and they offer very effective strength training for those with knee arthritis. They come in different widths and thicknesses, so you can increase the resistance as you strengthen your knees.

Loop the band around both feet at once and either stand on one leg while moving the other out to the side, front or back, or sit on a chair and bend one leg out in front of you while the other remains on the ground. The resistance band will add light pressure, making your muscles work harder. For your safety, make sure your band is looped securely and prior to each use check for tears in the band. Use simple bands which are designed to fit the upper or lower leg.

Best Exercise Equipment for Range of Motion Exercises

The third component of exercising your arthritic knees is doing range of motion exercises. Range of motion exercises help keep your joints moving properly by stretching and strengthening the areas around them. In fact, one study indicated that range of motion exercises helped up to 76% of patients avoid knee surgery for arthritis.

Yoga Mat

Yoga is one of the most recommended exercises for range of motion, and studies show it decreases knee pain too. The only equipment you need is a simple yoga mat.

Select a mat this is sticky enough to help you keep your balance and thick enough to offer some support to your knees when you are down on the floor. Look for a mat that is at least 5mm thick to get the best support for your knees.

Purple mat leaning on cork bricks and cotton strap on top

Cotton Strap

As you work to become more flexible, a cotton strap can help you achieve exercises and positions you may not be able to do at first. You can wrap the cotton strap around the soles of your feet to help you bend forward further, or you can use it to support one leg in the air, giving you some stability. Use a simple D-ring strap that will quickly thread your strap into a loop.

No matter what exercise equipment you choose to use for your knee arthritis, make sure you begin slowly and check with your doctor to see which exercises may help you the most. There are different types of arthritis, and some may benefit from one exercise more than another. Choose the best pieces of equipment for your knees to reap all the benefits that exercise has to offer.

Was this page useful?
Best Exercise Equipment for Arthritic Knees