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Physical Therapy Exercises for an Arthritic Kneecap
Patellofemoral arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis that affects your kneecap. The patella is the small bone, also know as the kneecap, that protects your knee joint. In a healthy joint, the patella sits in a groove on the femur bone that is fully lubricated with synovial fluid and protected by cartilage. In a person with arthritis, the cartilage can break down, leading to painful bone-on-bone contact.
The goals of physical therapy treatment for knee arthritis are not to cure the condition, but to lessen the symptoms. Therapy should focus on improving strength in the muscles that innervate the knee. When your body can rely more on your muscles and less on your joints, then your joints have an easier time functioning. In addition, perform range-of-motion exercises, because often pain in a joint will cause immobility and loss of range.
Low-impact aerobic exercise not only helps to train the muscles that innervate the knee joint, it can also help you control your body weight. The less excess weight you have, the smaller the load is on your knees, which can make a world of difference. Aerobic exercises that are good for patellofemoral arthritis include walking and swimming.
Strengthening exercises during physical therapy aim to improve the strength of your quadriceps and hamstring muscles. The correct exercises are done in a way that takes the strain off of the front of your knee joint. Begin with a straight leg raise. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding onto a stationary object, extend one leg out to the side in a slow and controlled motion, as if you are trying to kick something. Slowly lower the leg and repeat on both sides. Adding some resistance, such as a resistance band or ankle weights, will further improve strength gains in the quadriceps muscles.
Range-of-motion exercises help joints work through their functional range. For an arthritic kneecap, perform a seated hamstring stretch. Begin by sitting on a chair or bench. Extend one leg out in front of you, so that your knee is as straightened as it can be. Lean your upper body forward and down so that your hands approach your toes. Lean only as far as you can without pain. You should feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold this for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Patellofemoral Arthritis; March 2011
- "Foundations of Athletic Training"; Marcia K. Anderson, Susan J. Hall, Malissa Martin; 2005.
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Leg Extension
- EX RX.net: Seated Hamstring Stretch
Laura Niedziocha began her writing career in 2007. She has contributed material to the Stoneking Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., and her work has appeared in various online publications. Niedziocha graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. She also has her Associate of Arts in communications from the Community College of Philadelphia.