Are Stationary Bikes Good for Knee Rehab?

Man spinning and looking at his friends

Your knee isn’t just the largest joint in your body -- it’s also quite complex, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. As a result, it’s very susceptible to injury, many of which can be treated non-surgically. Rehabilitation from a knee injury may include the standard RICE approach -- rest, ice, compression and elevation. Exercise, including cycling on a stationary bike, can also potentially provide relief and prevent further injury. Consult your doctor, however, before beginning this or any exercise regimen.

Rehabilitation Purpose

When you suffer a knee injury the muscles, tendons and ligaments become weak and the joint gets unstable. Rehabilitative exercises strengthen the muscles and joint structures that support the knee, improve stability and increases flexibility and range of motion, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Quad Builder

According to Robert Klapper and Lynda Huey, authors of “Heal Your Knees,” a bicycle program nurtures weight-bearing joints such as the knees. Also, because a cycling motion involves only the hinge joint part of the knee’s function, it doesn’t put any potentially damaging rotational torque on your knees, they explain. Also, biking on a stationary or regular bike builds up the quadriceps muscles, the primary protectors of your knees.

Different Bike, Different Ride

As Klapper and Huey point out, athletes or former athletes are more likely to favor upright bikes. But, if you’re older or have a back problem, a recumbent or reclining bike may be more suitable for you to use during your knee rehab. They recommend trying out both types of bikes to determine which feels better and which you find more effective for your knee.

Use Good Form

Setting the seat height is the most critical consideration when using a stationary bike to rehabilitate your knee. Your seat should be set at a height that allows you to keep your knee almost straight at the bottom pedal position. If your knee straightens fully or bends more than a few degrees, adjust your seat. Klapper and Huey also recommend that the seat be flat rather than tilting upward or downward and that you keep your knees and feet pointing straight ahead.

Duration and Intensity

The AAOS recommends cycling for 10 minutes a day at light resistance at the beginning of your rehabilitation. Add an extra minute each day until you’re cycling 20 minutes daily. As your knee becomes stronger, gradually increase the resistance as well.

When to Stop

If at any time your pain or any other symptoms become worse, stop cycling and notify your doctor or physiotherapist. According to Brian Halpern, a sports medicine physician and author of “The Knee Crisis Handbook," a recumbent bike may take some of the pressure off your knees during cycling. Or, he recommends using a bicycler ergometer, which allows you to use your arms to turn the pedals of a stationary bike.