Research shows that some form of regular exercise is beneficial for people with arthritis, whether in the form of cardiovascular or strength training or both.1,2,3 These benefits include overall pain reduction, improved self-efficacy (a belief in being able to achieve one’s goals),improved overall well-being,and improved strength and function.1,2,3,4 Most of the research is derived from a population of patients with knee arthritis, but it is likely that these benefits apply to individuals with osteoarthritis in other joints as well, such as the spine and hip.
There are a number of possible explanations why exercise for individuals with arthritis is beneficial. Pain reduction may occur due to the natural analgesics that the body releases during and after exercise (called “endorphins”). Endorphins are also what may contribute to the improved sense of overall well-being, since in addition to relieving pain they also act to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Pain reduction also may occur as a result of increased strength, which leads to greater protection of the joints during activity. When the muscles surrounding a joint are stronger, they are better able to absorb impact, thus reducing the force transmitted through the joint itself.
Other benefits of exercise include improved energy, sleep, bone density, and weight-loss, which is particularly important in patients with knee arthritis. For each pound, four times the compressive force is transmitted through the knee during normal daily activities, such as walking.5 Thus, for each pound loss, four times less force is transmitted through the knee, possibility resulting in decreased pain in the joint.
Improved energy, sleep, and bone density are all critical for health and healing, and may help patients cope better with their arthritis.
You do not need to exercise vigorously to get the benefits of exercise. In fact, it is recommended that if you are not accustomed to regular exercise that you begin with 5-10 minutes, and work up to 20-30 minutes, 3-5 times per week at a low-moderate intensity. This means walking at a brisk pace where you are still able to hold a conversation. Forms of exercise that are most beneficial are low impact activities such as walking, cycling, or swimming.
Benefits can be seen immediately with beginning an exercise program, but it may take 8-12 weeks for a significant pain reduction.4
If you have further questions, are having continued pain despite having maintained a regular, low-impact exercise program for 12 weeks or more, or would like to develop an exercise routine and don’t know where to begin, you can contact us at our Avon clinic (970)949-9966 or at our Eagle clinic (970)328-5230.
1. Brand E, Nyland J, Henzman C, McGinnis M. Arthritis self-efficacy scale scores in knee osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing arthritis self-management education with or without exercise. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2013; 43(12): 895-910.
2. Jamvedt G, et al. Physical therapy interventions for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: A systematic review. Phys Ther. 2008;33:123-136.
3. Devos-Comby L, Cronan T, Roesch S. Do exercise and self-management interventions benefit patients with osteoarthritis of the knee? A metaanalytic review. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2006;33:4.
4. Henriksen M, et al. Exercise therapy reduces pain sensitivity in patients with knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Care Res. 2014. [Epub ahead of print].
5. Messier S, Gutekunst D, Davis C, DeVita P. Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2005;52(7):2026-2032.