How to Build Better Knees With RA

These easy moves can lessen knee pain and boost flexibility. 

Lisa Robins

Half the battle of keeping your knees healthy when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is shoring up the muscles around them. And that doesn’t require fancy equipment or hours at the gym. Just make sure to get your doctor's approval before starting any exercise program.

Modified squat
Stand tall in front of a sturdy chair with your heels hip-distance apart. As you extend your buttocks backward, slowly bend your knees and lower yourself into the chair so your knees point forward over your feet. Exhale, brace your core (stomach and lower back muscles) and slowly rise back to the starting position. Repeat 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Tip: Too hard? Place a cushion on your chair so you’re sitting higher off the ground. Too easy? Try holding a set of light dumbbells in your hands. 

Knee extension
Sit tall in a chair with your hips and back pressed against the backrest and both knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Straighten your left knee, lifting your calf so it’s parallel to the floor. Hold it here for 1-3 seconds, focusing on your front thigh muscle, then slowly lower back down. Complete 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions per leg.

Tip: Feeling pain? Ease the strain on your lower back by rolling a towel and placing it between your chair and the small curve of your lower spine. Pain or pressure behind your kneecap can be relieved by placing a rolled towel on the chair, underneath your extended knee.

Healthy-knees moves
Along with strengthening exercises, the Tufts University researchers had participants do 20 minutes of cardio—any type of movement, even gentle dancing or marching in place—three times a week. The third component of the plan was stretching, specifically the front and back of the thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings), along with the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. Ask your doctor or a physical therapist for advice on how to perform these types of stretches safely.

April 2013