Exercise & Osteoarthritis
For individuals suffering osteoarthritis, ‘Exercise & Osteoarthritis’ are not often the first two words that come to mind. This is due to the associated pain which can be incredibly limiting due to the impact on performing daily tasks around the home, at work or even simply when walking up and down a flight of stairs.
Osteoarthritis refers to damage to the articular cartilage which usually lines the ends of bones that make up a joint. Intact cartilage acts as a shock absorber for pressure placed on the joint and allows the joint to glide seamlessly when moving. When the cartilage becomes damaged or eroded, as can occur with repetitive use across the course of ageing or following an injury, this compromises the shock absorption function and leads to bone pressing on bone and subsequent pain. Osteoarthritis can affect numerous joints, but often the hips, knees, spine and hands are involved (i).
Becoming physically inactive is a very common result of osteoarthritis due to the pain associated with moving the joint, particularly if the knees or hips are involved.
The management of osteoarthritis typically involves pain management and avoiding inactivity. Becoming physically inactive is a very common result of osteoarthritis due to the pain associated with moving the joint, particularly if the knees or hips are involved. However, this is ultimately something that must be avoided, as physical inactivity can cause further deterioration of arthritic changes as well as increasing the risk of a range of additional conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. In addition, the muscles surrounding the affected joint are often prone to weakening which can further exacerbate pain. Maintaining the strength of these muscles is incredibly important for not only restoring and maintaining function, but also in reducing pain levels. Numerous clinical trials have shown that regular exercise training can improve osteoarthritis related pain and function (ii).
With that in mind, these are some tips that may be helpful for exercising with osteoarthritis:
– Choose the time of day that is best for you when pain levels are less
– Always ensure you have an adequate warm up and warm down period to allow the joints to begin to move gradually. It is always good to add in some gentle stretches to maintain the range of motion of the joint too.
– When you are starting an exercise program, avoid activities that involve high impact or sudden changes of direction
– Start off slow and don’t overdo it! Even though you might not have pain during exercise, going too hard can often cause increases in pain over the next few days
– Using types of exercise where your body weight is supported can be a great way to relieve pressure on joints such as the knees and hips and allows you to complete more exercise with less pain. Things like cycling or swimming can be great forms of exercise that don’t load the joints as much as walking or jogging
– Perform exercises that help to develop the strength of the muscles surrounding the joints. If you need help with what are the best exercises for you, consider seeing an Exercise Physiologist
(i) Arthritis (osteoarthritis) and Exercise Factsheet, 2014; Exercise is Medicine Australia
(ii) Durstine, J., Moore, G., Painter, P., & American College of Sports Medicine. (2016). ACSM’s exercise management for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities (Fourth ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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