Osteoarthritis Treatment Exercise

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disorder characterized by damaged cartilage in the joints between bones. The condition is very common and causes considerable pain and disability for many people.

While treatment for osteoarthritis needs to be personalized to suit the needs of the individual, it often includes medication in conjunction with a suitable exercise or rehabilitation program. Unfortunately, far too many arthritis sufferers rely on pain-killing medication alone, rather than adhering to an exercise program.

Research has proven that exercise has clear benefits for both reducing pain and enhancing mobility. Many with joint pain fear that exercise will cause even more harm to the joints. Consequently, they use this as an excuse to be sedentary.

However, exercise not only improves strength and function, but it can also help people lose weight, taking damaging pressure off common sites for arthritic pain, like the knees. The benefits gained from exercise may lead to decreased dependence on medication and, therefore, minimize the health risks due to unwanted side effects.

Which Form of Exercise is Best?

Aerobic exercise performed in a swimming pool, also known as hydrotherapy, is an excellent form of exercise for many arthritis sufferers. Because hydrotherapy limits impact on the joints, it may be particularly useful for individuals with pain due to excess weight bearing down on the knees or hips.

However, the benefits of hydrotherapy go beyond relieving arthritic symptoms: the aerobic nature of this form of exercise also increases cardiovascular activity in the body, improves breathing, strengthens muscles and enhances coordination.

A recent article in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases presented results from a study comparing hydrotherapy, gym-based exercise and a control group performing no particular exercise. The research was based on a study of 105 patients age 50 or older with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee.

Researchers found that both hydrotherapy and gym-based exercise, when compared to the control group, provide clear benefits with respect to gains in physical function. The study also suggests that hydrotherapy may be a more appropriate from of aerobic training, reducing the strain due to weight bearing and potentially increasing the amount of time the individual is able to exercise. However, a gym-based exercise program is superior for building strength.

Home-Based Exercises for Strength and Movement

Because arthritis of the knee is a common problem, most rehabilitation programs include exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscles. A simple technique for providing a home-based exercise program offers the greatest hope for effectively treating the community at large. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal outlines a simple home-based program and provides evidence that there is a clear benefit to this approach.

The study, led by Dr. Michael Doherty of the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, UK, involved the participation of 786 men and women age 45 years or older who suffered from knee pain. The participants were trained at home to use graded elastic bands for resistance training of the quadriceps muscles and were encouraged to train for 20-30 minutes a day.

The results of the study showed that the home-based exercise program significantly reduced the level of pain experienced by the subjects who most strictly adhered to the daily schedule received the greatest benefit.


Foley, A., Halbert, J., Hewitt, T.