By Tom Keppeler, Knee1 Staff
When osteoarthritis sets into the knees, many patients are tempted to stay off them, kissing their active days goodbye. A new study, however, says that could not be further from the truth.
Not only does exercise—especially walking—stave off the onset of osteoarthritis, it may help relieve the symptoms of the disease once it sets in, according to Dr. Frederick Vivino, an associate professor of rheumatology at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
When a patient has osteoarthritis, the bones in his or her joints begin to rub together as cartilage is lost. The condition, which many suspect is genetically related, can come on with no warning, or may follow an athletic injury. Many osteoarthritis sufferers give up walking, feeling that it will worsen their condition.
However, Vivino told Internet news service HealthScout that walking strengthens the muscles around the knees, which takes the pressure off the bones and slows the progression of the condition.
"We actually know that joggers and other athletes who you might think would get osteoarthritis really don't, assuming they don't get an injury while running, because what they're doing is strengthening the muscles,” Vivino told HealthScout. "Their movements become more efficient, and place less of a load on the joints."
However, some warnings accompany Vivino's advice. When patients are suffering from the acute phase of osteoarthitis, characterized by great pain and swelling, athletic activity should be avoided. Instead, patients should treat the condition with plenty of rest, 20-minute applications of ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Additionally, patients should consult their doctors before beginning any new exercise regimen.
High-impact exercises, such as basketball and running should be avoided in patients with osteoarthritis, physical therapist Mark Paterno told HealthScout. Low-impact exercises, such as walking, stationary bikes and skiers, and especially swimming, will work to reduce the pressure on the patient’s joints.
Flexibility is also key to managing arthritis pain.
"If these patients lack flexibility, it can increase the strain on their joints," Paterno told HealthScout. "And from a weightlifting standpoint, again you have to be careful of impact."
As always, consult your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any new exercise routine to ensure the safety and success of it.
Photo courtesy of PicturesNow.com.