Arthritis of the Hips, Knees, and Feet: Causes, Exercises, and Other Treatment Options

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Do you often feel pain or stiffness or experience swelling in your joints? Or do you have trouble moving around like you used to? These are common telltale signs of arthritis. Some of the most common complaints of arthritis patients are often associated with arthritis of the hips, knees, and feet, especially the big toe.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. It is caused by overuse of the joints and is commonly found in the hips, knees, and hands. If you experience pain in any of these regions, don’t worry. There are a few exercises you can perform for just a few minutes every day to help you with this problem. Let’s find out what can cause arthritis of the hips, knees, or feet and what you can do to improve your symptoms.

Causes and symptoms of arthritis of the hip and knee

Arthritis of the hip occurs due to the degradation of the cartilage found within the hip. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint located at the femoral head, which is the top of the thigh bone. Whenever you move around, the ball-and-socket joint rotates, giving you the freedom to move around as you please.

However, this ball-and-socket joint is protected by cartilage located between the ball and the socket. It serves as a slippery coating or lubricant that allows the ball to rotate around freely without causing any friction.

When the cartilage is damaged, it starts to thin out. Sometimes, it completely wears out, leaving the ball to rub against the socket.

This is usually what causes pain and stiffness in cases of arthritis of the hip. If it is not treated, it could lead to a change in the shape of the bone.

Common symptoms of arthritis of the hip include:

  • Hip stiffness that makes movement difficult
  • Hip weakness caused by reduced activity
  • Pain in or near the hip
  • Audible crackling sounds from the hips whenever you move

Arthritis of the knee — as with the hip — is caused by the degradation of cartilage. It can also worsen with age if not treated properly. The knee is held together by a synovial joint. This type of joint can be found in the knees and the elbows. It works just like a hinge and enables us to swing our limbs without restriction.

A woman sitting on the floor with pain caused by arthritis in the big toe and knee

The three main bones that make up the knees include the shinbone (tibia), kneecap (patella), and thigh bone (femur). The joints are covered by the synovial membrane. Located within this membrane is cartilage that covers the ends of each bone, acting as a lubricant. Whenever this cartilage wears out, the bones begin to rub against one another, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling.

According to experts, arthritis of the knee can be inherited. Other causes include:

  • Age
  • Weight or bone density
  • Injuries or stress
  • Bone anomalies such as crooked bones

Common symptoms of arthritis of the knee include:

  • Clicking or grinding noises in the knees
  • Buckling knees
  • Stiffness of the joints
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain in the knees when walking

What causes arthritis in your big toes and feet?

The foot is an amazing structure that’s made up of 28 bones and 30 joints. However, any one of those bones and joints can be affected by arthritis. Arthritis of the feet occurs when the normal lining or cartilage in the feet experiences wear and tear.

One of the most common parts of the foot affected by arthritis is the big toe. For most people, there is no definitive cause of arthritis in the big toe other than the sheer amount of stress placed on it.

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The joint in the big toe is extremely small, and as the last toe to leave the ground every time you take a step, it bears the majority of your body weight. After years of repetitive impact, the cartilage in the big toe might eventually fail and lead to arthritis.

Although not all causes of arthritis in the big toe can be defined, some are caused by injuries or other medical conditions like gout or joint infection.

How to manage arthritis of the hips, knees, and feet

There are a few things you can do to manage your arthritis, but treatments for arthritis may differ depending on the stage of the condition and the level of pain experienced. The main aim is to reduce the pain and prevent further damage.

Here are a few ways you can manage arthritis of the hips, knees, and on top of the foot:

  • Reduce running and jumping exercises as much as possible.
  • Engage in simple weight loss practices, if possible. Reducing your weight can help reduce the amount of load on the joints.
  • Use heating pads. They can help soothe the pain in joints, muscles, and tissues while also reducing any form of inflammation or swelling in the hip.
  • Use a cane to support yourself when walking. This is to transfer your body weight and reduce the load on your joints.
  • Maintain physical activity to strengthen your hips. You can engage in low-impact activities like cycling or swimming to ensure that you remain physically active. This is important for managing hip arthritis.
  • Engage in physical therapy exercises.
  • Use medication. Some medications help to soothe pain and improve general well-being. Make sure you consult a doctor before taking any medication.

Best exercises for knee and hip arthritis

If you were diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your doctor has probably told you to do a few exercises to manage your condition. Here are a few arthritis knee exercises and hip exercises that you can practice to help you best manage osteoarthritis.


This is for producing liquid to lubricate the knee and hip joints. The more you move your joints, the more fluid they produce. Do these exercises in the morning to warm up your joints, improve your range of motion, and break down the synovial fluid thickness.

Any exercise that induces movements will do the job. Examples include:

  • Cycling
  • Half squats
  • Leg stretches
  • Leg raises (while lying down)

Consuming healthy fats like olive oil also helps with the production of joint fluid.

A group of people cycling to improve arthritis of the hips and knees


These exercises are important for maintaining a good cardiovascular system. These exercises increase the heart and respiratory rate. Examples include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Cycling


These are very important for reducing joint pain and increasing calcium in the bones. Try squatting against a wall:

  • Rest back flat against a wall and slowly squat down a few inches.
  • Hold yourself in that position for about 10 to 20 seconds.

This is to apply weight on the hips and knees.

You can also wear ankle weights and flex your knees or stretch your legs to engage the knee and hip joints. Do this 10 to 20 times. Sit and stand exercises are also excellent weight exercise options. Ensure that you see a doctor to show you how to do them properly.


These exercises are very helpful for maintaining flexibility, improving range of motion in the joints, and reducing muscle tension. When experiencing pain in the joints, people tend to use those areas less, making the muscles stiffen.

Gentle stretching is meant to help you avoid getting stiff muscles.

You can exercise your knees by gently flexing and extending them to stretch the muscles around them. This also works for increasing lubrication.

Can a knee brace improve arthritis pain?

If you have knee arthritis, knee braces can help take pressure off your knee and reduce pain. But results may differ for different individuals with knee arthritis.

If you’d like to use a knee brace, there are certain risks you should be aware of. Some of these include:

  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Swelling and skin irritation
  • A sensation of heaviness in the knee
  • General discomfort

Some individuals who have used an arthritis knee brace have reported improved conditions; however, others don’t see any benefit.

Do you need to wear special shoes if you have arthritis in your feet?

You do not need to wear any special shoes if you have arthritis, but there are certain shoes that you should avoid, such as pointed shoes or shoes that increase friction. The ideal arthritis shoes should be the right fit, have enough space for your feet, and not cause you any pain or discomfort.

If you have foot or big toe arthritis, you should aim for shoes that can be easily adjusted and fit your feet perfectly. Heels are certainly not ideal, and if you want to wear flats, aim for flats with a sole thick enough for impact absorption.

Bottom line

Having arthritis is not the end of the world. By following the practices above and dropping a few habits, you may be able to manage arthritis without any problems. However, if the remedies above aren’t working, then you should consider visiting a doctor for further guidance. They are in the best position to give you sound advice and map out a great management plan for you.

January 27, 2023