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Do Patients with Osteoarthritis Benefit from Exercise?

Stationary bicycling, aquatic exercise, and weight-bearing activities such as walking, low-impact aerobic dance, and neuromuscular strengthening and conditioning have been proven safe and effective in persons with symptomatic osteoarthritis, according to some recent studies. In fact, regular exercise may have a preventative role in populations at risk for developing osteoarthritis. In a four-month randomized, controlled trial comparing exercise to no exercise in 45 subjects (average age 46 years) at risk for knee osteoarthritis, moderate weight-bearing and strengthening exercise resulted in increased glycosaminoglycan (an important component in cartilage, tendons and ligaments) content in the inner compartment of the knee.

Many patients with knee osteoarthritis will probably find additional benefits from Physical Therapy treatments. In a multicentre, randomized, controlled trial involving 134 patients (average age = 63±10 years) who were prescribed home exercises, only those who attended additional sessions of PT-supervised exercise and manual therapy reported a significant decrease in medication use and greater treatment satisfaction. Both the PT and non-PT groups demonstrated improved functional status and walking tolerance at four and eight weeks, and the improvements were maintained after one year.

In another study, physicians examined pain, function, and other clinical outcomes related to hip osteoarthritis. After eight weeks of strength training, lifestyle advice, and a home exercise program, small to moderate benefits were found for pain, function, physical performance, and self-reported disability.

Poor balance and the risk of falls can also be helped by specific therapeutic exercises among individuals with lower extremity osteoarthritis. In a study of 66 women with knee osteoarthritis, Diracoglu and colleagues found significant improvements in function, health-related quality of life, quadriceps strength, and knee proprioception in those who participated in neuromuscular (balance/kinesthetic) training in addition to a strengthening program as compared to strength training alone.

Physical Therapists are specialists in movement impairments and will develop therapeutic exercise programs and treatment plans specific to your needs. If you or someone you know suffers from arthritis, please feel free to contact me, your Physical Therapist or physician on options that can help decrease your pain and improve your quality of life.