Gym Safety for Patients With Osteoarthritis

For many reasons, exercise is an essential component of osteoarthritis treatment. But the exercise must not exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms. Which types of exercise are best for osteoarthritis patients? Is gym equipment recommended for osteoarthritis patients?

A woman working out at the gym
Grady Reese / Getty Images

An exercise regimen that includes strength training, flexibility or range-of-motion exercise and some aerobics is optimal for osteoarthritis patients. Walking, swimming and cycling are good choices of aerobic exercise for osteoarthritis patients because they are less stressful on the joints (low impact) compared to activities like jogging. With regard to strength training—lifting light dumbbells, utilizing resistance thera-bands, Pilates, and water exercise are recommended. To improve flexibility—yoga, tai chi, and basic stretching all can be beneficial.

Gym equipment can be beneficial if used properly. We asked rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin M.D. about exercise and the use of gym equipment for osteoarthritis patients. "Regarding osteoarthritis of the knee or hip—exercises which do not stress the joints are best. A bike or elliptical is good. Strengthening of quadriceps with low weights or just resistance may help osteoarthritis of the knee too, especially if the patellofemoral component is affected. If patients hurt more the following day, they have done too much or the wrong type of exercise," he said

Basic Advice for Gym Equipment

Stationary Bikes: The seat of your stationary bike needs to be positioned high enough so your knees do not bend more than 90 degrees or come up higher than your seat when you are pedaling. With the pedals positioned further away like this, you reduce stress on your knees. A regular, upright stationary bike provides a more intense workout than a recumbent bike. However, a recumbent bike reclines and is designed to reduce stress and strain on your knees and lower back.

Elliptical Trainer: An elliptical trainer provides a low-impact workout, similar to walking, but with a high-intensity cardio workout. The elliptical trainer, a cross between a stair climber and stationary bike, works all of your major muscle groups and can help you lose weight and shape up without hurting your knees.

Treadmill: A treadmill provides an excellent walking workout—and you don't have to fight weather elements. Arthritis Today suggests that you start slow for three to five minutes and "move up to a moderate pace by slowly increasing the machine's speed." When stopping, cool down by reducing the speed and walking at a slower pace for a few minutes.

Bottom Line

Gym equipment is appropriate for osteoarthritis patients—especially if modified or adapted to their needs. The goal is to benefit from exercise but not stress arthritic joints. It's important to exercise at a level that matches your physical ability—but then build on that safely and gradually.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Villafañe JH. Exercise and osteoarthritis: an update. J Exerc Rehabil. 2018;14(4):538-539. doi:10.12965/jer.1836352.176

  2. Reiser RF, Broker JP, Peterson ML. Knee loads in the standard and recumbent cycling positions. Biomed Sci Instrum. 2004;40:36-42.

  3. Mangione KK, Mccully K, Gloviak A, Lefebvre I, Hofmann M, Craik R. The effects of high-intensity and low-intensity cycle ergometry in older adults with knee osteoarthritis. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999;54(4):M184-90. doi:10.1093/gerona/54.4.m184

  4. Arthritis Foundation. How to Choose and Use a Treadmill.

Additional Reading
  • Tips for Treadmill Walking Success. Arthritis Today. Jodi Helmer. Accessed 02/23/10.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."