knee arthritis and exercise

The maxim ‘no pain, no gain’ has just been reinforced by the publication of a recent Canadian osteoarthritis study, published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, the official journal of the Osteoarthritis Research Society International. The study has shown that working through any initial pain caused by exercise will pay off in the end as pain levels will decrease.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and can affect any joint in the body, although the large weight-bearing joints such as the knees are particularly susceptible. It occurs when the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of your bones wears down, causing pain and stiffness. It’s thought that 8.5 million people suffer from osteoarthritis in the UK.

The study, from researchers at Western University’s Wolf Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory (WOBL), found that rather than giving up exercise when it hurts, persistence pays off.

“You really shouldn’t be afraid of exercise. We know it can sometimes hurt when you move a joint with OA, but as long as you’re careful about it and take a break when you have substantial amounts of pain, it’s actually better for you to keep exercising,” said Trevor Birmingham, a physical therapy professor at Western who is also Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation.

A 12-week neuromuscular exercise programme was devised for knee arthritis patients. During the supervised therapy sessions, participants were questioned about their perceived exertion and pain levels.

Rather than aerobic or strength training, neuromuscular exercise focuses on postural control and balance. For example, ensuring your knee is in the correction position while performing the various exercises.

Listening to your body

With any exercise programme it is essential that you listen to your body. Patients on the Western study knew to expect there would likely be some pain experienced at the start of the exercise programme but that this should subside. However, if the pain went above a certain threshold then the exercises would be modified.

Orthopaedic surgeon Mr Shah Punwar explains to his patients that there is much evidence that moderate exercise and even running is good for osteoarthritis, contrary to what used to be taught.

A 2013 study that compared the effects of running vs walking, found that running significantly reduced the risk of requiring a hip replacement, in part due to its weight loss benefits.

For more advice on management of osteoarthritis, call 0808 163 1268 to arrange a consultation with Mr Shah Punwar.

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