Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition which typically comes on later in life, with symptoms including joint stiffness, restricted movement, joint clicking / creaking and bony enlargement of the joints. Sometimes pain is a symptom of OA as well, but not always – this phenomenon was addressed recently in our blog post about X-rays and OA.
When experiencing symptoms of OA, many people believe there isn’t much that can be done besides painkillers and surgery. But this just simply isn’t true! Appropriate levels of exercise is a proven way to manage and improve the symptoms and underlying condition of OA.
How does exercise help improve symptoms of OA?
With OA, the joint space can become smaller causing the joint to weaken and stiffen. This means you will have reduced movement of that joint, and there is usually pain at the end ranges of motion (for example, when you fully straighten or fully bend your joints). An exercise program tailored to your individual ability levels and state of your joints will improve the range of motion of the joint, enabling far greater ease when undergoing day-to-day activities!
If a stiff joint is not being moved and used properly day-to-day, the disuse of the muscles around that joint will lead to downward spiral of weakness and pain. As a result of worsening weakness, when you move throughout your day there will often be more instability at the joint which will cause more pain.
Is there evidence to support exercise as treatment for OA?
Why yes there is! In 2014 a detailed literature review of a wide number of related studies consistently showed that people with hip OA who underwent a Physiotherapist-led exercise programme reported a significant reduction in pain and a significant improvement in physical function.
The reduction in pain within these patient groups was still maintained at least 3 months after ceasing the monitored exercise treatments.
Exercise is medicine, not only for OA
It’s not new information that exercise is good for us. In 2016 the National Institute of Health Care published the following physical activity guideline:
“Adults should aim to be active DAILY. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. (i.e. 30 minutes, 5 days per week). They should also perform some type of strength training at least two days per week.”
In addition to helping reduce symptoms of OA, this level of activity provides excellent health benefits including:
- reduced risk of a range of diseases (e.g. coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes)
- healthier weight
- ability to perform everyday tasks with ease
- improved self-esteem
- reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
- improved cognitive function
Don’t let your osteoarthritis stop you from enjoying these benefits of consistent exercise and movement!
How do I begin an exercise programme?
If you’re completely new to exercise, it may seem daunting to get going with a programme. First thing is to check with your GP to make sure your heart is fit for exercise. If yes, start slow, simple and light. Begin with 20-30 minutes 2-3 times per week and gradually increase over the course of several weeks to months.
To help you in your journey to improving mobility and activity levels as well as strength and fitness, the Shawe Physio team has produced a comprehensive programme of appropriate levels of exercise for those with OA or looking to start activity again following injury or sedentary life.
Arthritis research UK, Prevalence of osteoarthritis in England and local authorities: Tower Hamplets via www.arthritisresearchuk.org
UK physical activity guidelines via www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines
Ottawa Panel evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for therapeutic exercise in the management of hip osteoarthritis (Brosseau, et all) September 23, 2015
McConnell, S., Hernandez-Molina, G., Reichenbach, S. 2014.The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.