Strengthening and conditioning the leg muscles increases the muscles’ shock absorbing ability as well as stability in the knee joint, thus minimizing the effects and progression of arthritis in the knee. If the following knee strengthening exercises are too challenging, modifications may be used; as muscles get stronger modifications may be eliminated.

Squats for Knee Strengthening

The squat is a multi-purpose knee strengthening exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, firmly planted on the ground. Then slowly bend the knees as if sitting back into a chair, keeping the back straight and the abdominals engaged. The knees should not go forward beyond the toes. Arms may be raised forward to help with balance.

A reasonable goal is four sets of 12. Small free weights may be held in each hand to add difficulty.

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Modification 1: A person who is unable to keep his or her back straight may try squatting against the wall. Position the body in a full squatting position with the back flat against the wall. Raise the body by straightening the legs and sliding the back up against the wall, and then lower the body using the same method.

Modification 2: This version uses a chair. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart in front of the chair. Cross arms across the chest, grabbing opposite shoulders with opposite hands. Exhale and sit back, moving toward the chair until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Pause for a moment, and then rise slowly while keeping the core body engaged and back straight. If the chair feels too far down, place pillows on the seat until it is a comfortable height.

Thigh and Hip Strengthening Seated Leg Raises

This exercise strengthens the muscles in the front of the thigh, the quadriceps.

Begin by sitting in a chair with the knees bent, feet dangling above the ground. Add pillows to the seat of the chair if necessary. Hold onto the sides of the chair for stability, slowly extend left leg until it is nearly parallel to the floor. Try to keep the leg as straight as possible without locking the knee. Pause briefly holding the leg straight, and then return back to the starting position. Repeat with the right leg.

Perform three sets of 12 repetitions on each side.

Side-lying leg raise

This strengthening exercise mainly targets the muscles on the outside of the hip.

Lying on the left side of the body, bend the left knee so that the left foot is behind the body. Slowly raise the right leg until it makes a 45º angle with the rest of the body, keeping the leg as straight as possible. Pause at the top, and then start a controlled lowering to the starting position. If able, keep the lowered leg in line with the body and off the floor.

Repeat the leg raise 8-12 times on each side, performing three sets. If this exercise seems too easy, add light ankle weights.