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Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis

Jun 3

With the rise of COVID-19, many Americans are camping out on the couch to binge watch their favorite TV shows and movies.

While these sedentary habits are helping with social distancing, they also can lead to an increased risk of developing or aggravating osteoarthritis within the joints of the body.

An estimated 23 percent of American adults suffer from arthritis, making it a leading cause of work pain and disability.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the progressive breakdown of the cartilage (or cushion) that lines the surfaces of the bones that ultimately form the joints of the body, such as the knee, shoulder and hip. This breakdown can make joint movement painful and can result in reduced mobility necessary for daily activities.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain with daily activities
  • Pain at night
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Decreased strength
  • Swelling/inflammation
  • Tenderness to touch

Osteoarthritis can cause people who were once active to begin living a sedentary lifestyle in an attempt to avoid pain. Yet not only does inactivity increase osteoarthritis pain, but it also negatively affects the health of the other major systems of the body and their health including the lungs, heart and brain.

How to Treat Osteoarthritis

As a result, osteoarthritis can damage one’s overall health and well-being. The good news is that you can take action to treat this disease and get back to doing the activities you love in your daily life.

Though it seems counterintuitive, studies have shown that one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis is exercise. As we look toward society reopening, it is important that we have maintained an appropriate level of activity during quarantine to reduce the risk of developing or aggravating osteoarthritis upon returning to work.

Some of the evidence-based reasons why exercise is so important to fighting the effects of osteoarthritis include the following:

  • Exercise helps act as a natural “lubricant” to help joints move more efficiently and smoothly.
  • Strengthened muscles surrounding the joint allow for more support and promote pain-free movement.
  • Exercise helps with weight loss and fitness. Obesity increases the load and stress on joints exponentially. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces load to joints, thus reducing the risk for osteoarthritis.
  • Exercise and activity move the joints through a variety of ranges of motion, which helps counteract stiffness.

Where to Go from Here

It is important to note the “weekend warrior” mentality of immediately beginning with hours of intense, painful exercise is not the appropriate approach to tackling osteoarthritis pain. Slowly increasing exercise of the appropriate type, intensity, repetition and frequency ist he smart way to approach exercise and osteoarthritis.

If you are unsure where to begin your movement treatment plan to combat osteoarthritis, physical therapy is a great place to start. Physical and occupational therapists have extensive training in corrective exercises to treat joint pain, including specific type of exercises and proper length/repetitions to give you long-term relief.

Please reach out to your local clinic to begin your journey back to pain-free movement and personal wellness.



Written by Matthew O’Connell PT, DPT, Colorado Springs – Austin Bluffs CO center