It is a common notion that participating in too much physical activity or exercise causes the joints in your body to wear out, getting stiff, creaky and perhaps even painful. At Medicine in Motion, we believe that ‘motion is lotion’, and is not only excellent at helping strengthen arthritic joints, but also to help keep them healthier for longer.
So let’s start with what having arthritis in a joint, or osteoarthritis means. Essentially, osteoarthritis is changes to components of the joints, such as the cartilage, bone or meniscus that will sometimes also result in pain, discomfort or a loss of movement. There is no singular cause for osteoarthritis, rather a number of factors that can contribute to the likelihood of developing these changes in the joints, such as age, gender, genetics, weight, strength and past injury. The current research shows that there is no conclusive evidence that participation in regular moderate activity leads to negative changes in the joints. There is, however, evidence that shows that the cartilage on the joint surfaces can deteriorate with a lack of movement. Furthermore, regular movement of our joints helps to promote circulation of fluid and nutrients – all the good stuff that helps to keep our joints well nourished and moving smoothly.
Low levels of strength in the quadricep muscles (those at the front of our thighs) has been shown to be a risk factor for the development of ‘painful knees’. One particular study showed that exercises targeted at improving the strength of these muscles in individuals who had already developed osteoarthritis in the knees led to improvements in both pain and function of the knee joints. A great way that we can look at this, and the same goes for other joints across the body, is that our muscles, tendons and ligaments are all there to help support our joints, and can act like a ‘brace’ to help protect from high levels of impact going through the joint itself.
Hydrotherapy can be a great place to start if you are someone who does experience discomfort in your joints when exercising, as the buoyancy of the water can reduce the load on the joints, while still helping to keep them moving and improving the strength of surrounding muscles. Many people find this a comfortable way to get active, and exercising in the water shouldn’t be underestimated – you can still get the muscles working hard!
Cycling is also a common exercise that people with arthritis in the knee often opt for. It is effective for reducing the load on the knee joints, while moving through a large range of motion and still getting the muscles working.
The important take-away message from much of the research is that, as with many things, consistency is key! Long term adherence to moderate levels of physical activity is one of the most consistent predictors of the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, particularly in the hips and knees. Importantly, this physical activity should be enjoyable to ensure that it is maintainable for the long term! If you need some advice from an accredited exercise physiologist about which types of exercise may be best for you, give us a call and book in today.
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Hunter, D.J et al 2009, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, Journal of Anatomy.