Is a Recumbent Exercise Bike Good For Bad Knees?

Painful knees and knee injuries can be debilitating and frustrating for anyone. If you’re experiencing knee pain that’s hampering your everyday life, finding an exercise that doesn’t make it feel worse can seem like an impossible task.

But Is a Recumbent Exercise Bike Good For Bad Knees? Recumbent exercise bikes are considered to be one of the best forms of exercise for people with bad knees. Their low weight bearing and highly controlled range of motion can be ideal if you’re looking for a way of staying fit during knee rehabilitation. They can also help strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the knee, helping build back strength as well as guarding against future injuries.

Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at when and why the recumbent exercise bike could be a good option for knee pain, as well as a few things to consider when trying out the recumbent bike as a new form of exercise. 

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Can You Ride a Recumbent Bike with Bad Knees?

Recumbent exercise bikes are popular with rehabilitation clinics and physiotherapists for a number of reasons. Stationary bikes in general often top the list of healthy, helpful exercise machines for people experiencing knee pain.

The recumbent form of the stationary bike holds even more potential benefits for those recovering from knee injury, or those who suffer from chronic knee discomfort.

The key to the recumbent bike’s benefit lies in the position you adopt when you’re using it. When you operate a recumbent exercise bike, your knees and other lower body joints don’t need to bear weight at all.

The extended position of the pedals, combined with your recumbent position, means that there is even less strain placed on your knees and leg joints than other forms of stationary workout. 

When we suffer from knee pain or knee injury, we can often find that the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee become weakened through inactivity. This, in turn, can extend the period of injury and reduce the overall strength of the knee area.

The recumbent exercise bike can help strengthen the quads, hamstrings, calves, and other important muscles that help stabilise and protect the knee. Strengthening of these muscles often proves a vital part of rehabilitation.

Maintaining the strength and suppleness of tissue around the knee area can be crucial when it comes to keeping chronic knee pain at bay. 

The recumbent exercise bike also avoids extreme flexing of the knee joint. This can be particularly problematic for knee pain. Exercises such as weight lifting, squats, or lunges can all involve intense flexion of the knee. 

Similarly, dynamic sports such as football, tennis, or squash can involve sudden shifts and spikes in pressure placed on the knee. With the recumbent exercise bike, you have complete control over the pace and pressure placed upon your knee joint, and can adjust your workout accordingly. 

Orthopaedic injuries, such as strains, fractures, or dislocations, can often result in a severely restricted range of movement. With adjustable recumbent bikes, you can alter your seat and pedal position in order to control the range of motion afforded by the machine during any single workout.

This can allow you to exercise your lower body whilst keeping your knees moving within a safe range. You can gradually expand this range as required, to help gradually increase your comfortable range of motion. 

Sciatica can also be a cause of certain forms of knee pain. This is because the sciatic nerve runs down the back of the leg and is linked to muscles around the knee. Pain can be triggered when tension or weight is placed on the lower back.

For this reason, sciatica sufferers may also find relief in the recumbent bike, as the comfortable horizontal position and larger seat can help relieve pressure placed on the lower spine. Upright stationary bikes can sometimes exacerbate sciatica because they require users to maintain an upright posture. 

Is a Recumbent Bike Hard on Your Knees?

Cycling in general is commonly seen as one of the gentlest forms of exercise when it comes to your knees. Compared to activities such as running, stepping, or skipping, far less weight and impact is placed on the knee joints themselves.

This doesn’t mean that cycling, or the recumbent bike, come without their risks. As with any form of exercise, overuse can result in inflammation, pain, and injury.

Cyclists who exercise either on stationary bikes or normal bicycles regularly and intensely can sometimes suffer from ‘cyclist’s knee’, a catch-all term for generalised knee pain often caused by repetitive friction from cycling. 

If you are concerned about your knees and need extra support I recommend strapping them to avoid further injury.

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The best way to avoid injury of this sort is to start slowly and build up gradually, particularly if you are not used to the range of movement. This is true of the recumbent bike as much as it is for any other unfamiliar form of exercise.

Generally speaking, however, recumbent exercise bikes are likely to be less hard on your knees than many other pieces of gym equipment or exercise. They also offer one of the most stable, low-risk workouts in terms of accidents.

Their low centre of gravity, broad seat, and back support, all mean that falling off a recumbent bike is highly unlikely. For those who have mobility issues or difficulty with balance, this can be a great feature of the equipment, and one that sets it apart from mobile bicycles or even upright stationary models. 

In order to avoid putting your knees under too much strain, try to ensure you have adjusted the resistance of your recumbent bike properly.

Contrary to what some may think, lower resistance does not always equate to lower strain. If the resistance on your pedals is too low, you can end up pedalling too fast and inadvertently ‘jarring’ your knees. If resistance is too high, the resultant strain placed on your knees in order to drive the pedals could cause problems. 

Try to ensure you have set a functional level of resistance that allows for a smooth, consistent, and sustainable workout pace. Opting for a recumbent bike with a good range of resistance options is worthwhile for this reason, as well as giving you more flexibility with your workouts in general.

Magnetic resistance also tends to afford a ‘smoother’ workout than direct contact resistance set-ups, which can tend towards being a bit ‘juddery’ or tough. 

Is a Recumbent Exercise Bike Good For Bad Knees?

Is a Recumbent Bike Good for Arthritic Knees?

Osteoarthritis usually results from the cartilage between our joints having worn away, causing unchecked friction, stiffness, and chronic pain. It’s a condition more commonly experienced the older we get, but can be borne by people of all ages.

Although arthritis can be a debilitating and restrictive condition for many, it has been shown that certain forms of exercise can help relieve pain and improve mobility. In fact, the Arthritis Association recommends cycling exercises as being some of the most effective workouts for arthritic joints. 

The recumbent exercise bike can be helpful for arthritis sufferers by encouraging the circulation and production of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is a lubricating substance found within certain joints and continues to act as a lubricant even in the absence of functional cartilage.

This is one of the reasons that stiff joints can sometimes find relief in gentle movement and exercise. 

Another reason the recumbent exercise bike can prove particularly effective for people suffering from arthritis is that arthritis can cause pain elsewhere in the body. If you are experiencing arthritic pain in the knees, you may also conceivably experience pain related to arthritis in other areas, particularly the lower back or ankles.

The reclining position of the recumbent exercise bike can therefore offer relief by taking weight off the lower back and lower body during exercise. 

Guidance Around Using The Recumbent Exercise Bike to Aid Knee Pain

As with any chronic or injury-related pain, it is always wise to consult a medical professional before adopting a new form of exercise.

This is particularly true if your pain has been caused by a sudden or acute trauma or impact injury. In such cases, it is worth ensuring that your rehabilitation programme is overseen by a trained physio or specialist, to avoid exacerbating any existing problems. 

However, as a general rule, the recumbent exercise bike has proved popular with physiotherapists and rehabilitation clinics because it offers controlled, low impact exercise for a range of users. Its benefits can extend to people suffering from knee pain, mobility issues, and other forms of chronic discomfort. 

Remember, exercise shouldn’t feel like a form of punishment. If knee injury or knee pain are causing you to avoid exercise, then any form of activity that feels comfortable and keeps you active is likely to be worth pursuing.

Staying active, even if our mobility and function is limited, is crucial in helping us stay as mobile and as healthy as possible. 

If you find that the reclined position and general stability of the recumbent exercise bike helps you to workout during periods where other workouts cause pain, then it could prove to be an effective tool in keeping you fit and healthy. 

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An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!