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I Have Chronic Knee Pain – Here Are My Best, Joint-Friendly Workouts To Stay Fit

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Living with chronic knee pain can feel like a constant battle. Every step, every bend is a potential trigger. But, as frustrating as it is, regular exercise has been one of the most powerful tools in managing my pain and staying active.

The benefits of staying fit with sore knees are undeniable:

knee friendly workouts
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  • Reduced pain over time: Exercise helps strengthen the muscles around your knee, providing support and taking pressure off the joint.
  • Better flexibility: Gentle movement improves your range of motion, making everyday activities easier.
  • Lifted mood: Staying active releases those feel-good endorphins, which can help combat the stress and frustration of chronic pain.

Of course, the big challenge is finding workouts that won’t make the pain worse. That’s where the focus on low-impact activities comes in.

Before jumping head-first into a new routine, it’s very important to consult your doctor or a physical therapist. They can guide you on appropriate exercises and any modifications you might need.

Benefits of Low-Impact Workouts

For individuals dealing with chronic knee pain, low-impact workouts are not just a safer exercise option; they come with a myriad of benefits that can enhance overall health and well-being while safeguarding the knees from further injury.

A 2021 study found that exercise programs appear to be safe and effective in knee osteoarthritis patients, mainly regarding pain and strength improvement. Pilates, aerobic and strengthening exercise programs performed for 8-12 weeks, 3-5 sessions per week; each session lasting 1 hour appear to be effective. Both aquatic and land-based programs show comparable and positive effects.

Reduced Risk of Injury and Strain on the Knees

Low-impact exercises significantly lower the risk of exacerbating knee pain or causing new injuries. Activities such as swimming, cycling, and walking apply less force to the knees compared to high-impact exercises like running or jumping.

This gentler approach helps individuals stay active without putting undue stress on vulnerable joints.

Improved Joint Mobility and Muscle Strength Around the Knees

Engaging in low-impact workouts can lead to improved joint mobility and increased muscle strength, particularly in the muscles supporting the knees, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Stronger muscles contribute to better knee stability and can alleviate pressure on the knee joint, potentially reducing pain and enhancing movement efficiency.

Enhanced Cardiovascular Health Without the High Impact

Maintaining cardiovascular fitness is crucial for overall health, and low-impact workouts provide a viable way to achieve this without compromising knee health.

Exercises like swimming, cycling, and using the elliptical machine allow for sustained cardiovascular activity, improving heart health, and endurance, and aiding in weight management.

Maintaining a healthy weight is particularly important for individuals with knee pain, as excess weight increases the load on the knees, potentially worsening pain.

My Top, Joint-Friendly Ways to Move With Knee Pain

After experimenting (and consulting with my physical therapist), I’ve found a handful of exercises that offer a great balance of effectiveness and joint-friendliness. Here’s a breakdown of my favorites:

Swimming: Why Water is Your Best Friend

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Young woman in blue cap and swimming suit in pool

Water provides natural buoyancy, which reduces the gravitational force on your body, significantly lowering the impact on your knees and other joints.

Swimming and water aerobics allow for a full-body workout, improving cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and flexibility with minimal risk of knee strain.

Cycling (Stationary or Outdoor)

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Athlete on racing bike outdoors at sunset.

Cycling, whether on a stationary bike or outdoors, is excellent for knee pain sufferers. It helps build strength in the leg muscles without high-impact stress on the knees.

Ensure proper bike fit and seat height to reduce unnecessary knee strain. Low resistance and gradual intensity increases are key to a knee-friendly cycling routine.

Walking: Maximizing the Benefits of a Simple Walk

Walking is perhaps the most accessible form of exercise for those with knee pain. It’s inherently low-impact, yet effective in maintaining cardiovascular fitness and strengthening the legs.

Opt for flat, smooth surfaces and consider supportive footwear to minimize knee discomfort. Incorporating walking poles can also help redistribute your body’s weight, further reducing knee stress.

Elliptical Training: A Knee-Friendly Cardio Alternative

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The elliptical machine is designed to mimic the motion of running but without the harsh impact on the knees. It offers a cardiovascular workout that also targets the lower body, making it an ideal choice for knee pain sufferers.

Adjustable resistance and stride length can help customize workouts to be as gentle on the knees as needed.

Yoga: Strengthening and Stretching for Knee Support

Yoga focus on strengthening the core and improving flexibility, which can, in turn, provide better support and alignment for the knees.

Many poses and exercises can be modified to accommodate knee pain, focusing on gentle stretching and strengthening without putting pressure on the knees.

12-Minute Low-Impact HIIT Workout (Knee friendly)

If you want something a little more intense, HIIT style, you can use this workout:

It consists of eight exercises, each performed for 30 seconds with 15 seconds of rest in between:

  1. Front kicks: A great way to warm up your legs and get your heart rate up. Focus on keeping your core engaged and your back straight.
  2. Push-up renegade rows: This exercise combines a push-up with a renegade row, working your chest, back, shoulders, and core. If needed, you can modify this by doing regular push-ups on your knees or by performing rows on a bench instead of the floor.
  3. Lateral shuffles: This exercise works your legs and core while improving your agility. Focus on keeping your feet light and moving quickly.
  4. Sit-up presses: This exercise works your core and shoulders. If you have trouble getting up and down from the floor, you can modify this by doing crunches on a mat.
  5. Punching: This is a great way to get your heart rate up and improve your coordination. Focus on throwing punches with proper form to avoid injury.
  6. Squats and curls with alternating knee lifts: This exercise works your legs, core, and arms. If you have bad knees, you can modify this by doing squats without the knee lifts or by using a chair for support.
  7. Army crawls: This exercise works your entire body, improving your core strength, coordination, and stability. If needed, you can modify this by doing bear crawls on your hands and knees.
  8. Knee thrusts: This exercise strengthens your core and improves your hip mobility. Focus on keeping your back straight and your core engaged.

Or, you can try this one. I haven’t done it yet, but it looks solid:

Tips on How to Move When Your Knee Hurts

Exercising with chronic knee pain requires a cautious approach to prevent exacerbating the condition while still reaping the benefits of physical activity. Here are some essential tips to help you exercise safely, ensuring that your knees are protected during your workout sessions.

Starting Slow and Listening to Your Body

Begin with low-intensity exercises and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your body adapts. It’s crucial to listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain. Pain is a signal from your body that something isn’t right, and ignoring it can lead to further injury.

The Importance of Warming Up and Cooling Down

Warming up before exercising is vital to prepare your muscles and joints for the workout, reducing the risk of injury. A good warm-up can include light walking, gentle stretching, or cycling on a stationary bike for 5-10 minutes.

Cooling down after exercise is equally important, helping to gradually reduce heart rate and begin the recovery process. Gentle stretching after a workout can enhance flexibility and reduce muscle stiffness.

How to Modify Exercises to Minimize Knee Stress

Modifications can make exercises more knee-friendly. For example, when doing squats, limit the depth to avoid putting too much pressure on your knees. Use a chair for balance if needed.

When participating in yoga or Pilates, use props like blocks or straps to modify poses that may strain your knees.

When to Wear Knee Supports or Use Assistive Devices

For some, using knee supports or braces can provide additional stability and confidence during exercise.

These devices can help align your knee and distribute weight more evenly. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any assistive device to ensure it’s appropriate for your specific condition.

Understanding Chronic Knee Pain and Exercise

Chronic knee pain is a common ailment that affects people of various ages, stemming from different causes such as injuries, arthritis, or wear and tear due to aging.

It can significantly impact one’s lifestyle, making everyday activities challenging and limiting the ability to exercise for health and fitness. However, exercise, when chosen carefully and performed correctly, can be a powerful tool in managing and even alleviating knee pain.

Causes and Impacts on Fitness

Knee pain can arise from a variety of sources including ligament injuries, meniscal tears, arthritis, and patellofemoral pain syndrome.

These conditions can lead to a cycle of pain, reduced activity, muscle weakness, and further joint deterioration. The key to breaking this cycle is finding suitable exercises that strengthen the muscles around the knee, improving joint stability without causing additional pain.

Exercise as a Management Tool

Engaging in a carefully selected exercise routine can offer several benefits for knee pain sufferers. Exercise improves circulation, aiding in the repair and maintenance of joint tissues.

Strengthening exercises build the muscles around the knee, providing better support and reducing the load on the knee joint itself. Flexibility and stretching exercises enhance the range of motion and reduce stiffness. Together, these exercise components can help manage knee pain, improving quality of life.

The understanding that exercise is not just possible but beneficial for chronic knee pain sufferers is a pivotal first step. With the right approach, exercise can be a valuable ally in managing knee pain, rather than a source of fear.


  • https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/msc.1538


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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