Treat Osteoarthritis with Exercise- Part 1
Osteoarthritis means that you have pain in a joint and your doctor does not know the cause. Your blood tests for the known causes of joint pain are all normal, so you do not have an immune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Your X-rays may show broken cartilage or narrowing of the joint, or they may be completely normal. Three recent studies show that:
• Inactivity worsens osteoarthritis (Arthritis Care & Research, March 2015;67(3):366–373),
• Osteoarthritis can be caused by being overweight (Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, January 2015;23(1):34–40), and
• Exercise is a primary treatment for osteoarthritis (American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, November 17, 2014).
Osteoarthritis is Very Common
Eighty percent of North Americans have X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis by age 65, and sixty percent have significant pain. Osteoarthritis usually starts around age 40 with gradually increasing pain in the knees, hips, hands or spine. Osteoarthritis more commonly affects the joints at the ends of the fingers and at the base of the thumb, while rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the middle joints of the fingers and the joints where the fingers attach to the hand. In osteoarthritis, joints on one side of the body often hurt more than the other side. In rheumatoid arthritis, the same joints usually are affected equally on both sides of the body. In both, the pain is usually worse in the morning when a person first gets and usually lessens as the person moves around. Treatments include exercise, pain medications, physical therapy, weight control, and eventually, for some, total joint replacement.
Not Exercising Increases Joint Damage from Osteoarthritis
Adults with osteoarthritis of the knee usually walk far more slowly than people without joint pain and spend more than 70 percent of their days sitting. People with knee osteoarthritis who spend a lot of time sitting develop more joint damage and far more disability, even if they exercise (Arthritis Care & Research, March 2015;67(3):366–373). The authors recommend that people with osteoarthritis, “need pre-planned activity to strengthen, tone, and become more flexible. That includes walking, yoga, parking your car farther away from the store, walking to the mailbox, going up and down stairs, doing laundry, etc.”
Exercise Treats Osteoarthritis
One year of exercise therapy decreased pain and increased range-of-motion and function of the involved joints (Osteoarthritis and Cartilage 2013;21:525-34), and the improvements in joint function were even greater at two years (presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, November 17, 2014). For this study, the exercise therapy program included:
• muscle strengthening,
• range-of-motion drills,
• neuromuscular coordination exercises, and
• aerobic activities.