Knee Arthritis: Exercises To Avoid

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Knee arthritis occurs when the knee joint’s cartilage breaks down, causing the joint’s bone surfaces to grind against one another roughly. 
  • Knee arthritis usually results from age-related wear and tear, but injuries and genetic or joint defects can also contribute to knee arthritis.
  • Knee arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility. However, certain low-impact exercises can help alleviate these symptoms.
  • It is essential to avoid high-impact exercises and deep lunges or squats, which can incite further damage and exacerbate knee arthritis symptoms.

Exercising with Knee Arthritis

Knee arthritis is a medical condition that arises when the cartilage in someone’s knee joint has deteriorated, causing the joint’s bone surfaces and fragmented cartilage to rub together. The most common form of arthritis that affects the knees is osteoarthritis, which usually occurs as the knee joint wears down with age. Still, genetic predispositions and injuries can also cause types of knee arthritis.

People with knee arthritis often report painful symptoms like a throbbing, burning, or tender sensation around the knee, swelling-induced stiffness, and hindered mobility. Fortunately, some low-impact exercises have the potential to help mitigate knee arthritis symptoms. However, specific high-intensity exercises, like those that involve running and jumping, can aggravate knee arthritis symptoms

Educating yourself on the details of knee arthritis and which exercises to perform or avoid is crucial to your joint health. Contacting a qualified medical professional is a great way to get help building a safe and individualized exercise program that will help you manage your knee arthritis symptoms.

What Causes Knee Arthritis?

Numerous forms of arthritis affect the knee joint, each with different causes. While there are over 100 types of arthritis, the following forms most commonly affect the knee region.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis—it is a degenerative joint disease that usually arises in older individuals due to the long-term wear and tear on their joints. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis typically worsens over time because the joint’s cartilage continues to break down, forcing bone surfaces to rub together and occasionally create painful bone spurs.

Some factors that increase the risk of developing knee-related OA are:

  • Joint overuse – Overworking your joint by repeatedly bending your knee for tasks like gardening, cleaning, or construction can deteriorate your joint quicker and increase your chances of developing OA.
  • Age – Due to ongoing wear and tear in daily life, the risk of developing OA increases with age.
  • Sex – Statistically, women have a higher chance of developing OA than men, especially after the age of 50.
  • Weight – Being overweight puts additional stress on weight-bearing joints like hips and knees, increasing the risk of developing knee-related OA.
  • Genetics – If you have someone in your family who has OA, your risk for developing OA may be high.
  • OA in other locations – If you already have OA somewhere else in your body, like your hands, you may also be more likely to develop knee OA.

Being aware of how much you use your knee joints and whether OA runs in your family is an excellent way to gauge whether you may develop knee-related OA. Regardless, you may still be susceptible to other forms of arthritis that affect the knee region.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by someone’s immune system wrongly attacking healthy tissue in their joints, causing inflammation and stiffness. Usually, if someone has RA, it means that they have an unhealthy immune system. RA typically affects smaller joints like hands, wrists, and knees simultaneously.

Some factors that increase the risk of developing knee-related RA are:

  • Age – Although RA can start at any age, the onset of RA is most common for adults in their sixties. 
  • Sex – Compared to men, women have a two to three times higher risk of developing RA.
  • Smoking – Long-term smokers are more likely to develop RA, and smoking can exacerbate symptoms as well.
  • History of births – Women who have never given birth are more likely to develop RA. 
  • Weight – Being overweight can raise the risk of developing RA.
  • Genetics – Certain genetic makeups can predispose you to RA. Plus, human leukocyte antigen class II genotypes can also make arthritis symptoms worse.

Taking note of your lifestyle choices, such as whether you smoke or not, can offer some insight into  your likelihood of developing RA. In addition to OA and RA, some people can get knee arthritis from traumatic injuries.

Post-Traumatic Knee Arthritis

In some cases, trauma to the knee can cause a form of osteoarthritis known as post-traumatic knee arthritis. Even years after the initial injury has healed, lasting cartilage damage and misalignments can trigger arthritis and generate inflammation.

The most common incidents that cause post-traumatic knee arthritis are:

  • Sports injuries
  • Car accidents
  • Falls

Blunt force and awkward twisting motions can permanently damage your knee joint. Sometimes, knee pain can occur without injury, making it hard to find the issue’s root. If you are experiencing joint pain in either of your knees, contacting a reliable joint specialist is the best way to diagnose the problem and develop a personalized treatment plan.

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Our team of board-certified surgeons and compassionate professionals will create a personalized treatment plan to help you manage joint pain and get back to your daily routine.

Knee Arthritis Symptoms

The knee joint is an intricate biomechanism, so it is challenging for untrained individuals to determine the origin of their knee pain. Although consulting your medical provider is the only way to diagnose your condition officially, knee arthritis is usually accompanied by specific symptoms that you can look out for.

In some cases, the following symptoms are indicative of knee arthritis:

  • Joint pain that progresses over time
  • Joint pain that fluctuates depending on movement and weather conditions
  • Joint stiffness
  • Knee catches and locks
  • Knee buckles
  • Difficulty walking, especially ascending or descending stairs
  • Skin redness and irritation
  • Swelling
  • Knee crepitus, the audible clicking, creaking, or grinding noise from joints 

If you experience some of the common symptoms of knee arthritis, you should contact a qualified medical professional for confirmation. Without treatment or lifestyle changes, arthritic symptoms usually worsen over time and can have a more significant negative impact on an individual’s day-to-day life.

Impact On Daily Life

Unfortunately, knee arthritis impedes the lives of over 365 million people. Due to the stiffness and pain accompanying most cases of knee arthritis, many people struggle to do some of the tasks they were previously accustomed to. Having an arthritic knee can hinder the following activities.

Playing Sports

After developing knee arthritis, many athletes have to distance themselves from the sports they love. High-intensity sports like basketball, tennis, soccer, and football can cause further joint damage and should be avoided

Depending on the severity of your arthritis, an orthopedic brace may help reinforce your knee joint and help you continue playing low-impact sports. In severe situations, you may have to cut out sports entirely.


With an arthritic knee, it can be difficult to walk long distances. Repeated bending of the knee can cause more inflammation and painful grinding sensations throughout the joint.

It can also be challenging for people with knee arthritis to walk up and down stairs. Stairs require more flexion from the knee, muscle strength, and stability. People with knee arthritis usually experience muscle atrophy due to the limited use of their affected leg, making it harder to support themselves while ascending or descending stairs.


Some jobs require workers to stand or walk for extended periods, which can be difficult for people with knee arthritis. Additionally, some employees have to carry heavy items, which can put too much strain on an arthritic knee joint. It is essential to consider how active and demanding your profession is to understand how much your knee arthritis will affect your ability to work.


Knee arthritis can deliver substantial pain that disrupts sleep cycles. With uncomfortable levels of inflammation and stiffness, some people with knee arthritis can find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Plus, poor sleep quality can increase pain and negatively impact someone’s overall health and well-being.

Although the knee joint is relatively small, knee arthritis can pose a big threat to the quality of your life and make many beloved activities more challenging to complete. It is important that you consider solutions like knee replacement surgery or exercises and stretches that can improve the function of your joint, making it easier to continue doing the things you love. 

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Our compassionate team at The Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale will take all the steps necessary to help you overcome pain and ensure a smooth recovery.

How Exercise Affects Knee Arthritis

To many people’s surprise, some exercises can help manage knee arthritis. When performed correctly, regular physical activity can help maintain joint function and alleviate arthritic symptoms. Certain low-impact exercises and stretches can benefit people with knee arthritis by:

  • Improving overall joint health – Being sedentary can cause your joints to stiffen while losing mobility and strength. Without exercise, joints can become unstable and fatigued.
  • Increasing range of motion – Stretches, in particular, are great for improving mobility. By implementing a gentle stretching routine, you can extend your arthritic knee’s range of motion.
  • Providing support to the joint – Targeted exercises can strengthen the muscles around your knee joint, reinforcing the joint and helping it remain stable and functional.
  • Reducing swelling – Specific aerobic activities like swimming and cycling can improve the vascular system in your legs. With improved circulation, your body can naturally decrease inflammation levels and maximize flexibility.

Regular exercise has numerous advantages, especially for people with arthritis. Still, not all exercises are beneficial for people with knee arthritis. Some high-impact exercises can cause too much shock and strain to the knee, worsening symptoms.

Exercises To Avoid If You Have Knee Arthritis

If you have knee arthritis, be careful and strategic when building your workout plan. High-impact exercises send shock waves and excessive pressure to your weight-bearing joints, including your hip and knees. If you do not avoid exercises that can strain your arthritic knee, you can exacerbate your symptoms.

Some examples of high-impact activities that can worsen your knee arthritis are:

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Jumping
  • High-intensity dancing
  • Twisting and pivoting your knees
  • Deep squats
  • Basketball
  • Tennis

To eliminate doubt and ensure safety, ask your medical provider which knee arthritis exercises to avoid—they will also be able to recommend alternative low-impact sports and exercises.

Low-Impact Exercises For Knee Arthritis

Thankfully, there are several low-impact exercises that many people with knee arthritis can perform comfortably and safely. Low-impact exercises can be a reliable way to slowly and carefully build muscle around your arthritic knee joint, offering it the muscular support it needs to function correctly.

Examples of low-impact exercises for people with knee arthritis are:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Stationary cycling
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Low-weight resistance training 

Before testing out an exercise that interests you, consult a qualified medical professional. Each case of knee arthritis can be different, so building a treatment plan around your specific abilities, limitations, and goals is the best way to get you back to doing the activities you love without feeling excruciating pain.

Get Started On Your Path To Joint Recovery

Knee arthritis takes several forms, often causing pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.

Some low-impact exercises and stretches can mitigate knee arthritis symptoms, but high-impact exercises can actually be counterproductive and intensify the symptoms of knee arthritis. Consider seeking professional input from a medical provider to help you decide which exercises to try or avoid.

For some, solely exercising will not be enough to manage the complications of knee arthritis, and medical intervention may be necessary. The highly experienced team of joint specialists at The Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale specializes in total knee replacement, partial knee replacement, and total knee replacement revision surgery, which are usually the most effective long-term solutions to reducing knee arthritis symptoms if other interventions have not worked. 

We use Mako SmartRobotics, which ensures our surgeries are minimally invasive and provide fast patient recovery times. We also offer top-of-the-line alternative therapies like ARPwave and PEMF, which can reduce arthritic pain.

Contact us for help selecting the most effective treatment for your unique case of knee arthritis.