It is currently estimated that 10% of men and 18% of women in the world over the age of 60 have symptomatic osteoarthritis. It is a disease that affects multiple joints in the body but most commonly the hip and knee. It can cause pain, stiffness and loss of function but this varies largely between individuals.
There is often a common belief that osteoarthritis is an uncontrollable disease that will ultimately get worse overtime and that surgery is the only route to take. In some cases, surgery is the best option but this is not always the case. Many have advocated an avoidance of exercise once arthritis has been diagnosed but recent data suggests that we should be doing the opposite!
Whilst exercise cannot reverse the anatomical changes that osteoarthritis has, it can be used very effectively to reduce pain and improve function:
Lubricate joints - Your joints are surrounded by a synovial membrane, which contains synovial fluid. Synovial fluid acts as a lubricant to allow your bones to glide smoothly past one-another. Exercise promotes the release and circulation of synovial fluid around your joints.
Strengthen muscles - Every joint in your body has multiple muscles that cross and support them. The stronger these muscles are, the more load they take and the less that your joints do. This also allows more effective load distribution across multiple joints.
Weight loss - Being overweight is a key risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. Exercise, along with diet, is important in helping lose weight, which therefore reduces the load on weight-bearing joints like the hip and knee.
The known risk factors of osteoarthritis include obesity, ageing, previous joint trauma and chronic overload. Whilst some of these factors are non-modifiable, some can be modified directly by exercise.
Whilst we unfortunately cannot help getting older!, we can strengthen joints that have been weakened by previous injuries and lose weight through strength & endurance training. Chronic overload adds a spanner into the works when trying to promote exercise to combat arthritis but if we are mindful to include recovery days and weeks into our busy training schedules, then we can positively effect this too!
Arthritis is condition that many of us experience at some point in our lives. It can be a very painful and debilitating condition and can be confusing to know what to do and what not to do. Despite common beliefs that exercise should be avoided, it should in fact be promoted to help reduce the risks of developing osteoarthritis and to help reduce pain and increase function if we do have it.