Arthritis is a condition causing inflammation and pain in a joint. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.
In osteoarthritis, there is a slow breakdown of the joint’s cartilage (cartilage covers the ends of bone and protects bones from rubbing against one another). This breakdown of cartilage can be due to joint misalignment or abnormality, instability, injury or trauma, or other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, or obesity. A loss of muscle strength can predict the onset and progression of osteoarthritis.
Over time, the breakdown of cartilage causes the underlying bone to become exposed, leading to pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, deformity, and loss of joint function.
In some people, these symptoms may be mild and may come and go. In others, the symptoms are continuously present and may make it hard to carry out activities of daily living.
Osteoarthritis most often develops in people aged 45 and over and in people with a family history. Osteoarthritis also occurs slightly more often in women and is more often seen in certain occupations. The joints most often affected are in the hands, hips, and knees.
Unfortunately, many people with arthritis stop exercising because of the false belief that physical activity and exercise worsen symptoms or disease progression. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, exercise has not been shown to exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms or accelerate disease progression. In fact, most symptoms are well managed with exercise. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint are especially helpful in improving and maintaining functional use of the joint.
This research review (DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095424) found that people who exercised had significantly reduced pain, improved physical functioning, and improved quality of life when compared to people in non-exercising control groups.
For people presenting with pain as a symptom of osteoarthritis, a 2022 research review (DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2022.10490) found that when comparing exercise to opioids and anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise ranked as the best treatment for osteoarthritis pain.
These research reviews reinforce the importance of exercise participation for pain management and overall quality of life. Exercise may also lead to a decreased reliance on pain medications over time.
In 2019, the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation collaborated to present guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis (DOI: 10.1002/acr.24131). Strengthening exercise was strongly recommended for hand, knee, and hip osteoarthritis. Weight loss (for those who are overweight) and tai chi were recommended for knee and hip osteoarthritis only. Strong recommendations were not made for balance training, yoga, heat or cooling therapy, acupuncture, or kinesiotaping.
In 2022, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) also published guidelines on the diagnosis and management of osteoarthritis (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng226/chapter/Recommendations#non-pharmacological-management). These guidelines state that exercise is the core treatment for this condition and should be offered to all people living with osteoarthritis.
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Overall, the benefits of exercise in people with osteoarthritis are well documented and include decreased pain, increased muscle, bone, and joint strength and stability, and increased joint mobility. Regular exercise will also help to maintain joint function, independence, and quality of life well into later life.
Goldster offers a range of aerobic and resistance exercise classes for both beginners and more active adults. These classes are always supervised by expert trainers who are able to modify exercises for those living with health conditions, such as osteoarthritis.
Dr. Ashley Gluchowski, CSEP-CEP, CSPS