Exercising with Osteoarthritis
By Greg Zelden, PT, Director of Physical Therapy, Fairway Medical Surgical Hospital, Northshore LIVING WELL Magazine
The cardiologist tells you to exercise, your family physician has hinted that you should exercise and pop culture has a predominant theme to maintain health by exercise. Obviously, exercise is good for you. However, you have some noted signs of aging and the joints don’t take kindly to activity that is supposed to be so beneficial. What “they” don’t tell you is how to exercise. The workout you did in your 20s is not the same needed in your later years. The additional years have changed joint structure and osteoarthritis has occurred; therefore, the activity has to be altered to allow for these degenerative changes.
In order to understand what activities might be best, one must first understand osteoarthritis (OA). OA effects synovial joints, which are joints containing fluid within them. This fluid aids to lubricate the joint surfaces and provides nutritional components to the cartilage tissue, which surrounds the ends of the bones in the joint. All of the joints in your extremities and most of your spine contain synovial joints. As the cartilage begins to wear away, the underlying bone is exposed. The cartilage is incapable of replenishing itself and the bone does not support the stress without the presence of cartilage. The body tries to fix this problem with inflammation, causing swelling and pain. This is osteoarthritis, which effects your ability to exercise.
How do you exercise with OA? Studies have indicated that exercise can deter symptoms associated with OA. A routine exercise program assists the synovial joints in production of the fluid. This provides both the lubrication necessary for efficient joint function and the nutritional component needed for sustaining the remaining layers of cartilage cells. This is true of weight bearing joints (i.e., hips) and non-weight bearing ones (i.e., elbows). The most effective exercise for lower extremity function is a stationary bike, completed with minimal to moderate resistance for a duration of 20-30 minutes. This is the “most bang for your buck” activity. No aggressive pounding to aggravate joints and no aggressive loading with resistance to further irritate joint surfaces. Completion of a general body resisted program with minimal to moderate resisted loads for three sets of 10 repetitions, at least three times a week is recommended. This program is to include all major muscle groups of upper and lower extremities and the spine. Many health care professionals and fitness experts can provide you further instruction in the advantageous activities for exercising with OA. The right program can assist your present level of function and the wrong one can have a detrimental effect.
So yes, exercise is recommended – even if you have OA. The effects of activity on degenerative joint structures can have a favorable impact in prolonging the effective functioning life of the joints. It is true in this instance, USE IT OR LOSE IT.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, please visit Fairway Medical’s website for a list of orthopedic physicians or for information about Fairway Medical Physical Therapy. Visit www.fairwaymedical.com or call 985-809-9888.