People often wonder if exercise is good or bad for people with arthritis, especially for the knees.

Individuals with painful knee osteoarthritis (OA) experience pain and difficulty with daily activities. In fact, knee OA bears more responsibility than any other disease for disability in walking, stair climbing and housekeeping.

Currently, no cure for OA is known. However, physical factors such as muscle function,mgeneral fitness and body weight can be improved with exercise therapy.  When those things improve, so does arthritis pain.

A review of the research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in September 2015 looked at 54 studies with thousands of patients to determine if land-based exercise (ie. not in the water) can help reduce pain and improve function in people with knee OA.

The study concluded that there is high-quality evidence supporting the use of land-based exercise to provide reduced knee pain and improved quality of life.  Types of exercise included cycling, weight training machines, free weights and tubing, and various fitness classes.

There are several ways exercise helps knee osteoarthritis:

  • Exercise maintains or improves the joint’s range of motion.
  • Exercise strengthens the muscles that support the joint, especially the quadriceps. Leg weakness is common in knee OA.
  • Strong muscles help the joint absorb shock and improve the mechanics of the knee. This will in turn reduce pain and reduce stress on the cartilage, protecting it from further damage.

So what should you do?

The study concluded that almost any type of exercise program that is performed regularly and is closely monitored can improve pain, physical function and quality of life related to knee OA in the short term. This does not mean that individuals with knee OA should just start a running program or other unsupervised exercise program. Depending on the severity of OA, general fitness and other factors, it may be beneficial to introduce a land-based exercise program but it is highly recommended to consult with a healthcare provider first to determine the best types of exercise as well as duration and frequency.

If you have knee osteoarthritis and are unsure whether you are a candidate for exercise therapy, set up a consultation with one of our physiotherapist or doctors at MSK Health and Performance for a thorough assessment and to discuss your condition.

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