Arthritis and Exercise
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic disorder of the joints that affects older people as well as younger people. In joints, normal cartilage surrounds the surface of joints to allow movements to be smooth and aid shock absorbing into the joints with high impact activities or movements.
OA is when the joint cartilage wears down until none remains and the opposing bones rub together. New bone may also form around the joint surfaces which can affect the movement in the joint and cause pain.
The most common joints affected by OA include: the hips, knees, spine and hands
How is OA diagnosed?
Reported symptoms for the patient help with the diagnosis. Some things the client may describe include:
- Persistent knee pain
- Knee stiffness in the morning for less than 30minutes once they wake up
- Decreased range of motion
- Crepitus (clicking in knee)
- Reduced function
- Bony growth in knee
Otherwise an MRI scan can show early changes in the cartilage that cannot be seen on X-ray and changes in other joint structures such as bones and ligaments.
How does Exercise help?
Exercise is as effective in relieving symptoms as are pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, exercise is safer and has fewer side effects compared to medications.
Exercise can help:
- Improve balance
- Decrease pain
- Increase muscle strength
- Increase range of motion
- Prevent de-conditioning in muscles which will reduce load through the joints
- Improve quality of life
What type of exercise is best?
Many types of exercise are beneficial to OA clients. The age, functional ability and personal preference will determine the suitable exercises for the client.
The main aim like any condition is to find exercises that will suit you and that you will enjoy to do.
Strength Training: Strength training can be performed at home or at the gym. The thigh, hip and calf muscles, which are important for daily function, are often weak in people with OA. Resistance can be applied with weights, elastic tubing or body weight.
Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic exercise can be performed by yourself, with a friend or as part of a group. Activities may include walking, cycling, or using a rowing machine or a seated stepper. Avoid jogging or jumping exercises as this will place huge loads and forces through the already degenerated joints.
Hydrotherapy: The water buoyancy minimises the load on the joints and reduces pain on weight-bearing. Water exercise can be useful before progressing to land-based exercise.
Other Exercise: Stretching is another great way to help minimise the pain cause by OA.
Points to remember
Aim to exercise 4–5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. You may experience some discomfort in the affected joint during exercise — this is normal and does not indicate a worsening of the OA. You may experience pain following the exercise session and swelling, if it lasts for several hours than the exercise program may need to be cut back somewhat.
It is important that you maintain to the program, otherwise you can lose any gains that you may have attained during the early stages of the exercise. Being overweight is something that will cause more downward vertical force onto the knees so it is important that healthy eating is at the top of the agenda as well.