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The Best Knee Exercises for Older Adults, According to Physical Therapists

Learn how to strengthen your knees and increase your mobility as you get older, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Dec 19, 2023
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As you age, it’s normal for your joints to go through some changes. Some people may develop arthritis as a result, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms like stiffness and pain during activity. Fortunately, keeping your joints moving and strengthening the muscles surrounding them can help prevent these natural changes from impacting your day-to-day activities so you can continue to do the things you love. Your knees, which you use for everyday activities like walking, sitting, and bending, are one of the most important areas to strengthen. 

Caleb Wolters, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health
Building strength around your knees through exercise can help ensure you can do the things you want to do for as long as possible as you age.

If your knees are hurting, exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. But Dr. Wolters emphasizes that movement is exactly what you need to help keep your knees and body healthy, flexible, and strong. 

Read on to learn more about how to improve knee strength and mobility as you get older, especially with exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Caleb Wolters, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Wolters is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified orthopedic specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

The Importance of Strong, Healthy Knees

Your knees are the largest joints in your body. They’re responsible for bearing your body weight and providing stability when you stand, walk, or run. Strengthening the tissues around the knee joints can help your knees better absorb impact, which can make it easier to move without discomfort. 

Other benefits of strengthening your knees include: 

  • Reducing symptoms of knee arthritis or other knee pain. When your knee tissues are stronger, you’ll notice less pain in the joint itself. “Stronger muscles around the knee can help absorb force so it’s not all going through the joint, potentially reducing knee pain,” says Dr. Wolters.

  • Improving balance. Strong knees are important for balance, as your knees bear your body weight and keep you stable when you move. Better balance may also reduce the risk of falls.

  • Maintaining your quality of life. When you can move without excessive pain, you can enjoy activities and hobbies that are valuable to you — which can help support your physical and mental health as you get older.

  • Staying independent. Strong, healthy knees are an important part of independent living, like driving, walking, and handling chores.

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Knee-Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

All kinds of physical activity can help support strong knees, and the above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. Working with a physical therapist can also help you target more specific ways to improve your knee health. Physical therapists (PTs) are trained to modify exercises when needed to prevent pain during movement or safely add more challenge as you progress. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

More Benefits of Physical Activity for Healthy Knees

An active lifestyle is an important part of joint health. As you work to build knee strength, some physical activities can help keep your knees healthy and strong without pain. These include: 

  • Walking. Dr. Wolters recommends daily walking because it gently activates muscles in your legs without putting too much force on your knees.

  • Swimming. Swimming promotes gentle resistance to strengthen your muscles, which may make activity less uncomfortable.

  • Stationary biking. On a recumbent exercise bike, you sit in a reclined position and pedal in front of you rather than below you. This position may be gentler on your knee joints. 

No matter what type of exercise you do, staying active in a way you enjoy with minimal pain is key. “If it’s enjoyable and doesn't bother your knees, that’s a great place to start,” says Dr. Wolters. 

Common Questions About Knee Health in Seniors

Is squatting or kneeling bad for my knees? 

You may feel uneasy doing some movements, such as squatting or kneeling, if you have knee pain, but take heart: Dr. Wolters says when these movements are paced correctly, they actually help promote knee health. “If it’s painful to squat or kneel, I recommend working with a Hinge Health physical therapist to learn how to do these movements in a way that doesn’t exacerbate your discomfort,” he says. 

Won’t knee exercises make my knee arthritis worse? 

In general, the opposite is true. Exercise is known to help promote strength in those with arthritis. And it is rare that the occasional pain or flares that occur after knee exercises means you are making your arthritis worse, but it might mean you need to adjust your exercise plan. If you notice that pain (or any other symptoms) are worse when you’re exercising, talk to your medical provider or a physical therapist. An expert can help you find ways to exercise with less discomfort. 

PT Tip: Focus on Hydration and Nutrition 

One of Dr. Wolters’ favorite tips for senior knee health is increasing hydration and fiber intake. “A lot of times, soreness in the knees can be related to inflammation in the area, and drinking more water and eating more plants can help minimize that,” he says. Try to sip on water throughout the day, and add an extra serving or two of veggies to each meal. You may notice that with decreased inflammation in your knees, you experience improved mobility. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Heidari, B. (2011). Knee osteoarthritis prevalence, risk factors, pathogenesis and features: Part I. Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine, 2(2), 205–212. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3766936/ 

  2. Sen, R. & Hurley, J. A. (2023). Osteoarthritis. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482326/

  3. Wang, W., Niu, Y., & Jia, Q. (2022). Physical therapy as a promising treatment for osteoarthritis: A narrative review. Frontiers in Physiology, 13, 1011407. doi:10.3389/fphys.2022.1011407