Knee Arthritis and the Benefits of Exercise

Is exercise a good idea when you have knee arthritis or does it do more harm?

There are approximately 327 million people in the U.S. and nearly ten percent of them currently suffer from the most common type of arthritis, which is osteoarthritis. Typically referred to as the “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is most often found in the locations in the body on which we make the most demands; the weight-bearing joints. The knees are especially prone to the development of this degenerative condition that ultimately results in the loss of the protective cartilage within and around the joint. Once that happens, bones start to rub against each other causing significant pain, inflammation, and a decrease in function. 

The cumulative effects of years of use are certainly significant to the development of osteoarthritis, but there are other factors that may be involved. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Heredity: as with so many things, your genetic makeup plays a role in determining your likelihood of developing a wide range of conditions, including knee arthritis.
  • Gender: it may seem counterintuitive that women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis due to the fact that men are, traditionally, more active. It is believed, however, that the reduction in the hormone estrogen as women age may have something to do with it.
  • Injuries: any type of injury to a bone is considered a high-risk factor for the development of arthritis, although this may not happen for many years.
  • Weight: being overweight or obese is a factor simply because of the added pressure on the joints. 

Exercise or Not with Knee Arthritis?

One of the first thoughts that goes through the mind of someone newly diagnosed with knee arthritis is that they are immediately headed for joint replacement surgery. While this may be true sometime down the road, there are things that can be done to postpone that and still maintain an acceptable level of quality of life.

Some of the simpler suggestions for reducing the pain and inflammation that accompanies knee arthritis are likely to be some combination of:

  • Rest: reduce the amount of time that you spend standing, walking, running and other activities that put large demands on the knee joint. Moderate activity level and duration to give the knee time to rest and recover.
  • Ice and heat: knee joints can be stiff and sore in the morning so applying heat with a hot shower or heating pad can help loosen them up. At the end of the day or following a period of high activity, icing the knee can especially help with any extra swelling, as well as reduce pain.
  • Lose weight: every pound lost is the equivalent of reducing 5 pounds of force on the joints. 

It may not make sense, because moving it is the last thing you may feel like doing when your knee is in pain, but one of the best things that you can do to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis in the knee is exercise. When you flex the knee joint, the body pumps synovial fluid, a type of natural lubricant, into the joint. This helps the joint move more freely and reduces the friction between the bones.

Of course, the kind of exercise is important. Anyone with osteoarthritis in the knee should not be training for a marathon or signing up for basketball at the senior center. Much better choices are low impact activities, like cycling or swimming. The goal is to move the joint without putting pressure on it.  

If you have questions about knee arthritis or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of Orthopaedic & Sports Associates of Long Island are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here

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