Knee Osteoarthritis & exercise: How does exercise help people with knee osteoarthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis and exercise are two terms often heard together. But what does exercise exactly do and why is it so important? Read on to learn about knee osteoarthritis, how exercise helps and what you can do to manage osteoarthritis.

What is Knee Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints, with one of the more common joints being the knees. Our knees are composed of cartilage that covers the main bones of the joint, which helps lubricate the joint and reduce friction during movement. In osteoarthritis, this cartilage begins to degenerate over time. The presentation is very different between each individual, as it can present as no symptoms to one person but it might be quite disabling for another person. The risk factors for knee osteoarthritis are multiple and it can include: older age, previous joint injury, muscle weakness and obesity.

The common signs and symptoms in knee osteoarthritis include:

 – Pain, particularly from knee bending or weight bearing.

 – Swelling.

 – Warmth and/or redness.

 – Stiffness / reduced knee movement, particularly in the morning.

These symptoms can make it very challenging to perform everyday activities, such as walking, stair climbing, lifting, and can affect quality of life. Osteoarthritis is a very common condition, with 1.8 million Australians reported to have osteoarthritis in at least one joint according to the 2011-12 Australian Bureau of Statistics. The risk of the condition increases with age and unfortunately there is no cure for it. Thankfully, there are certain treatments and strategies we can implement to help manage the condition, such as exercise.

What will exercise do?

Exercise is an umbrella term for the wide variety of movements and activities we can introduce into your routine to help manage the condition of knee osteoarthritis. Depending on the type of exercise we do, we can target different qualities such as joint movement, stability, muscle strength and mass, which can then improve function in everyday activities (e.g. walking, standing up). Engaging in regular exercise can also assist with weight management, which may help reduce the stress on the knee joint and allow for easier movement in your day. However, weight management is complex and other factors such as sleep and nutrition will need to be considered.

Here are some examples of exercises that you can try:

  1. Sit-to-stands:

This is a great exercise for lower limb strengthening and promotes movement at all joints in the legs.

2. Knee extensions:

This exercise targets the quads, one of the main muscle groups of the knee. It is also a simple exercise that can be done whilst seated to keep the knee moving.

3. Step-ups:

This is a useful strengthening exercise for people wanting to improve their ability to climb stairs and can also target cardiovascular fitness (if performed fast enough).

4. Swimming:

This is a great option for people with knee osteoarthritis as the buoyancy of water helps offload the knee, which makes it easier and less painful to move. This doesn’t have to be swimming laps but can be as simple as walking up and down the pool.

There is no specific right or wrong exercise. The type of exercise that will work well is dependent on your own physical needs and interests. Keep in mind that motion is lotion, and exercise is not harmful for people with knee osteoarthritis. If you are unsure about what sort of exercise to do or how to start, book with our physiotherapists or exercise physiologists here at UniquePhysio and we will be happy to help!

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