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Knee pain: Five steps to staying active

Grandpa walking alongside kid holding ball.

Learn how to reduce knee pain while exercising—and when it’s time to see a doctor.

It’s a common conundrum: Exercise is important for joint health—but knee pain can make it harder to get that exercise.

That doesn’t mean it’s time to quit your fitness routine. In fact, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), exercise can help with arthritis pain. It helps lubricate joints, making them less stiff and achy. And building muscle can reduce stress and weight on your joints.

Making some changes can help you get the benefits of exercise with less pain. Here are five steps to consider:

1. Exercise less. Until your pain subsides, exercise less often or for shorter lengths of time.

2. Switch to a lower-impact type of exercise. Instead of running or competitive sports, try walking, bicycling or swimming.

3. Warm up and cool down. Set aside a few minutes of workout time to get your joints ready for exercise and help them recover when you’re done.

4. Think beyond cardio. Make strength training a part of your exercise plans, and ask your healthcare provider to suggest ways to boost your flexibility.

5. Buy comfortable shoes that fit well. Your doctor or a physical therapist might recommend special inserts or braces too.

No pain, no gain?

If you’re starting a new fitness routine, expect some soreness at first. It’s normal to have some pain, swelling and stiffness as you adjust. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it could take six to eight weeks for your joints to get comfortable with your new activity.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore real pain. According to CDC, you should see a doctor if:

  • Hot or cold packs, rest, and medicine don’t help your knee pain.
  • Your knee feels hot, looks red or is very swollen.
  • Your knee pain is sharp, stabbing or constant.
  • Your knee hurts enough to make you limp.
  • Your knee still hurts two hours after exercise.
  • Your knee hurts worse at night.

Your doctor can help you reduce your pain—and still enjoy the benefits of exercise.

Reviewed 10/10/22

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