Research is showing that exercise and physical activity have so many health benefits for the body. For this reason, exercise therapy and increased physical activity are a recommended treatment for many types of conditions.  

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the many conditions where exercise is showing to be beneficial.  By prescribing exercises as part of therapy and following the “guidelines for exercising in to pain” we are able to help people with OA feel better and move better.

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)? 

OA refers to changes in the cartilage and bone of a joint, for example the hip or knee. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and you may feel weaker in that joint.

OA produces a small amount of joint inflammation, and this is why we may feel pain and stiffness.

If our joints are getting painful and stiff, we may be less physically active.  However, a lack of exercise can also cause our joints to be painful and stiff.

Exercise will not only help to treat OA, it may also help to prevent the bone and joint changes that we typically see in OA.

Why is exercise so good for OA?

  • Exercise reduces inflammation in the body and around the joints.
  • Reducing inflammation improves pain.
  • Exercise makes us stronger.  If the muscles around your knee get stronger wth exercise, your joint feels more “supported” and possibly less stiff.
  • Exercise improves bone health.
  • Exercise improves overall fitness.
  • Exercise can help with weight loss.
  • Exercise helps us sleep better.
  • Exercise makes us feel better. 

So you may find that after some time doing your knee exercises you have less pain and your knee feels stronger. You may find that you are able to walk further or faster or do an activity again that you previously found difficult.  

Exercising and being physically active can also mean less use of medications for pain and/or inflammation and possibly even a reduced need for surgical intervention.

But, can I exercise with pain in my joint?

As mentioned earlier and in a previous post here it is important to follow the recommended guidelines of exercising in to pain.  

Using these guidelines allows us to exercise safely and can be helpful. Hurt does not necessarily equal harm, and some pain with exercise can be due to reduced joint and muscle “strength”.

Which exercises are good for OA?

A broad range of exercises are suitable for OA. These may include:

  • Strength training eg. squats, use of light weights
  • Activity training eg. practice of sit to stands, steps
  • Aerobic exercise eg. walking, bike riding or water exercises

You may find that you are able to do one exercise easier than the other.  Land based exercises are suitable, but water exercise can also be an option.

It is important to note that general exercise is also beneficial.  You might find that your knee is too painful to exercise, but you are able to do some arm exercises.  General exercise will still give you health benefits and (for the reasons listed above) may even improve your painful knee.

There are cases with OA where joint surgery may be necessary, and where medications are needed. Exercise therapy, pain medications and possible surgical options are all part of a tailored treatment plan between the patient, physiotherapist and general practitioner.

Exercise has so many positive benefits and not just for Osteoarthritis. We are looking forward to continued discussion about exercise and physical activity and just how good it is for our body in future blog posts.

Thanks for reading.

References:
Skou ST et al J Orthop Sports Phys There 2018; 48(6):439-447 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29669488

Skou and Roos BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (2017) 18:72 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28173795

Geneen LJ et al Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461882/

Smith et al, et al. Br J Sports Med 2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29925503

Disclaimer:  this information is for your education/information and should not be considered medical/physiotherapy advice regarding diagnosis or treatment recommendations.

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