Swimming for Knee Arthritis

By

Diana Kelly

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If you suffer from knee arthritis, your physician may have discouraged you from doing certain weight-bearing exercises that may exacerbate pain and possibly cause further damage to your knees—like trail running, jumping, or doing squats and lunges. But you should still do moderate exercise a few days a week to ease your knee pain from arthritis and prevent weight gain, which can put more strain on your knee joints. So, what about swimming? Aquatic exercises—like gentle water aerobics or swimming—have been found in several studies to help relieve arthritis pain in the knees and improve your overall daily function.

Why Swimming Can Help

If your doctor has approved swimming as a healthy exercise for your knee arthritis, discuss the frequency and types of strokes he or she recommends—the butterfly stroke, for instance, might not be a safe option. You might even consult with a personal trainer or physical therapist before beginning a swimming routine. Ask for expert tips and best practices to keep in mind so you can protect your knees.

Swimming for exercise can also help you maintain your current weight or even lose weight if your doctor says you’ve got a few extra pounds on your frame. Weight loss can help decrease your pain by reducing stress on weight-bearing joints, like your arthritic knees. If you find you’ve experienced a lack of energy or more fatigue since you’ve had arthritic knee pain—and perhaps you haven’t been as active—gaining weight or inactivity itself may be the reason you’re feeling lethargic. It’s very important to maintain your activity level when you suffer from knee arthritis for optimum overall health and to help reduce joint pain.

Warm up properly.

It’s a good idea to warm your joints up a bit first with range-of-motion exercises. Try forward lunges, cat-cow movements on all fours to warm up your back, and shoulder rotation exercises for 5 to 10 minutes before jumping into a pool, especially if the water is cold. You’ll probably want to start with the freestyle stroke (or crawl) and do a lap or two to see how you feel. Or, if you feel comfortable and enjoy varying strokes, consider swimming a gentle backstroke for a few laps. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about whether you should start off with a kickboard to build up strength in your lower body.

Pay attention to your body.

If you start noticing pain in your knee(s), take a break. You might want to do get out of the pool and do some light stretching or walking around to see if the pain dissipates. Sharp pain and pain that is stronger than your usual joint pain might indicate something is wrong. If you experience this, tell your doctor about the movements you were doing when you experienced the pain to find out what he or she advises. If you notice inflammation or redness on your knees after your workout, you may want to tell your physician about that as well, depending on the level of discomfort you’re experiencing.

Cool down afterward.

Apply ice to your knees as needed after swimming for the first few times you’re starting out, and especially if you experience inflammation. If your knee(s) feel healthy and pain-free after your swimming workouts, you can skip this step.

How Often You Should Swim

Work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise, like swimming, three times a week for healthy knees.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 21, 2017

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Medical References

  1. 25 Treatments for Arthritis Hip & Knee Pain. ArthritisToday.org. http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/osteoarthritis/treatment-plan/25-tr...
  2. Water Exercise Helps Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis. ArthritisToday.org. http://www.arthritistoday.org/news/water-exercise-helps-osteoarthritis.php
  3. Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness. MayoClinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971
  4. Sabo, Eric. Good Exercises for Bad Knees. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/health/Good_Exercises_for_Bad_Knees.html

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