What is Osteoarthritis?
In normal joints, a firm, rubbery material called cartilage covers the end of each bone. Cartilage provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion and acts as a cushion between the bones. In osteoarthritis or OA, the cartilage breaks down, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. As OA worsens over time, bones may break down and develop growths called spurs. Bits of bone or cartilage may chip off and float around in the joint. In the body, an inflammatory process occurs and cytokines (proteins) and enzymes develop that further damage the cartilage. In the final stages of OA, the cartilage wears away and bone rubs against bone leading to joint damage and more pain. Arthritis Foundation Website
How does exercise help?
Exercise is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis. Arthrtis.org
Movement in general can reduce inflammation, the cause of pain in arthritis. Your lymph system relies on movement to keep this fluid part of your blood moving so your body can lower inflammation. All three types of exercise work well for osteoarthritis:
- Stretching reduces stiffness that makes movement more difficult. Simply moving a joint through its full range of motion a few times several times a day can be very beneficial in reducing stiffness and movement limitations from OA
- Strength training helps your muscles, ligaments and tendons support arthritic joints. Strength training has been shown to reduce arthritis pain. The key is knowing how to do strength training with proper alignment so your joints work there best and you minimize strain. In your exercise visit, we practice this to ensure strength training is not painful so your body can gain strength without strain.
- Cardio can reduce pain, but there are several factors to consider. If the activity is weight bearing (such as walking), your joints probably won’t tolerate it for as long. However, since walking is a type of activity needed for daily life, it is important to incorporate if at all possible. Use a cane or walker if it helps you walk with less pain. Walk in several short bouts for the duration that does not increase pain. Supplement with a form of cardio that is non-weight bearing and allows you to move for a longer period of time, such as an exercise bike or seated aerobics. The key is doing the amount and type that decreases, not increases pain and then repeat that more frequently to make up for the lower duration.
The key to each of these is listening to your body. When movement decreases pain, it is lowering inflammation. When pain increases, so does inflammation. So doing small bouts throughout the day, doing the types of exercise that reduce pain and stiffness is the way to use exercise as the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in OA.
One last thing to consider is stress. If exercise or physical activity is stressful, it will increase inflammation. Choose types of movement you enjoy, that leaves you feeling good about yourself, and do it in a way that it does not increase your pain, and you will be using exercise in the way that it can make it easier to live with osteoarthritis.
In the next blog, I will address why exercise is important if you are having joint replacement surgery.
Keep moving, be well,
Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery. Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center
These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.