Strength Training Recommended for Older Adults with Osteoarthritis
October 23, 2003
By Jennifer Solar for Knee1
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis affects approximately 20.7 million Americans and is a common form of arthritis, especially in older adults. Daily activities are hindered and movement is limited in eighty percent of those individuals suffering from osteoarthritis.
Described as a weakening in the joints such as the knees, knuckles and ankles, osteoarthritis can lead to pain and affect the natural range of motion. One of the commonly recommended treatment options for osteoarthritis is an exercise regimen that maintains flexibility in the joints and improves muscle strength.
"There’s no question that for older adults, having an adequate level of strength is critical in daily life," said Anthony Walsh, PhD of Wake Forest University. Dr. Walsh adds that older adults still living independently are well-served by strength training programs. Many elderly people are active, but some don’t have the muscle strength to perform simple tasks such as getting in and out of a chair, putting the groceries away and using the restroom.
Dr. Kevin Gebke, Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Indiana sees many elderly adults whose knee pain is secondary to some form of arthritis. Part of Dr. Gebke’s work with his patients is assigning strength-training programs for knee pain, which results in decreased use of the knee joint. The importance of this form of exercise, he says, is strengthening the muscles that stabilize the knee - namely the hamstring, calf muscle, and most importantly, the quadriceps.
When advising a program that best suits the individual, Dr. Gebke either refers his patients to physical therapy or advises on home exercises. "I find something they enjoy doing, as long as they will be improving strength without exacerbating symptoms," said Dr. Gebke.
Dr. Angela Smith of the Department of Sports Medicine and Performance Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said that when determining whether or not to use strength training exercise for knee pain, she "treats the patient, not the X-ray." As evidence to this philosophy, Dr. Smith told the story of a 75 year-old man who came into her office complaining of pain in his kneecap. Training rigorously for a hundred-mile charity bike race, he previously had no symptoms and was strong and active. With this in mind, Dr. Smith was surprised to see what she considered a "terrible looking X-ray" indicating osteoarthritis. Dr. Smith suggested to her patient a simple strength-training regimen, which involved straight-leg raises with weights.
"You’re back," Dr. Smith said, as this particular patient returned to her office two months later. The biker had returned simply to thank Dr. Smith for the exercise that she prescribed. His symptoms had subsided as a result – so much so that after the hundred-mile journey, he chose to return on bike rather by car.