Osteoarthritis patients may worry that exercising could cause more pain and harm their joints. However, research shows that people can and should exercise when they have osteoarthritis.
Exercise is considered the most effective treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis. But osteoarthritis patients need to find the right balance between rest and exercise, because too much activity may increase your pain but too little can make your joints stiffen up.
Three kinds of exercise are important for osteoarthritis patients are exercises involving range of motion, (also called flexibility exercises); aerobic or endurance exercises; and strengthening exercises. Each one plays a role in maintaining and improving your ability to move and function.
1. Range of motion (Flexibility)
Range of motion refers to the ability to move joints through the full motion they were designed to achieve. When someone has osteoarthritis, pain and stiffness make it very difficult to move certain joints, which can make even the simplest tasks challenging.
Range-of-motion exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly – ideally every day – can help maintain and even improve the joints flexibility.
2. Aerobic (Endurance)
Aerobic exercise is any exercise that increases pulse rate and makes you a bit short of breath (for example a brisk walk, swimming or using an exercise bike). These exercises strengthen your heart and make your lungs more efficient. This conditioning has the added benefit of reducing fatigue, so you have more stamina. Aerobic exercise also helps control your weight by increasing the amount of calories your body uses. Furthermore, this type of exercise can help reduce pain because this exercise raises the levels of pain-relieving hormones called endorphins. Aerobic exercise could also help you sleep better and improve your mood.
It is recommended to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.
Swimming can be very good for osteoarthritis, because the water supports the weight of our body, we won’t be putting a lot of strain on our joints. Tai chi has also been shown to be helpful at reducing the pain from osteoarthritis.
3. Strengthening Exercises
Strengthening exercises help maintain and improve your muscle strength. Strong muscles can protect joints that are affected by arthritis and make it more stable. Thigh (quadriceps) exercises will help to stop your knee giving way if you have osteoarthritis of the knee, reducing the chances of stumbling or falling. Because knee and hip osteoarthritis may come to affect both sides of your body, and because both legs work as a unit when you walk, it’s helpful to do strengthening exercises on both legs to do hip exercises if you have knee osteoarthritis (and vice versa).
Ask your doctor about the right and specific exercise for you if you have osteoarthritis.
Weight Management for Osteoarthritis
Evidence shows that being overweight increases the strain on your joints – especially your knees. Being overweight not only increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis but also makes it more likely that your arthritis will get worse over time.
Because of the way the joints work, the force put through our knees when we walk, especially on stairs and slopes, can be several times our actual body weight. Losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference to the strain on our weight-bearing joints.
For every pound (0,4 Kg) of body weight you gain, your knees gain three pounds (1,3 Kg) of added stress; for hips, each pound (0,4 Kg) translates into six times the pressure on the joints. After many years of carrying extra pounds, the cartilage that cushions the joints tends to break down more quickly than usual.
Conversely, losing weight can reduce additional stress on joints that can cause cartilage to wear away. Easing the pressure on joints by shedding extra pounds can also reduce pain in osteoarthritis-affected joints.
Although you can’t do anything about the genes you inherit from your parents, you can and should take extra care in minimizing your other risk factors – primarily excess weight and joint injuries. By maintaining a healthy body weight you avoid putting additional stress on your joints.
Injuries from routine falls or severe bangs and bumps during athletic activities can cause major damage to the cartilage. These injuries can cause cartilage tears, or they can permanently alter the way your joints move so that they wear down cartilage more than usual. We can avoid injuries that may lead to osteoarthritis by taking care of our body. Warming up and stretching before athletic activity and exercise can help us prevent serious injury. If you do injure yourself, see your doctor to receive proper treatment. Injuries left untreated may heal improperly, which could lead to further damage later on.