Osteoarthritis and Exercise

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition where the cartilage at the end of bones wear down and bony changes occur. Exercise is a great way to help reduce the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.

Do you have joint pain?

Do you wake up feeling stiff?

Do you have reduced range of motion?

These are all common presentations of osteoarthritis.

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is a condition affecting joints, usually characterised by joint swelling and tenderness, accompanied by pain and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although both forms of arthritis present differently.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks its own cells. In rheumatoid arthritis the body attacks the lining of joints, causing swelling that can progress to joint deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis typically

affects more than one joint, and can also influence other organs such as the eyes, heart, skin and lungs.

Alternatively, osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition where the cartilage at the end of bones wear down and as a result bony changes can occur within the joint. Cartilage within our joints allows the bones to move smoothly without friction or irritation. As this wears down in osteoarthritis-affected joints, there is more contact between the bones leading to bony changes. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but most typically presents in hands, knees, hips and spine. Osteoarthritis symptoms gradually worsen over time as the bony changes occur within the joint.

What causes Osteoarthritis:

There is no singular cause of osteoarthritis, however, a number of things can contribute to it including:

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Injury to the joint or past injury
  • Genetics
  • Overuse of the joint or repetitive stress to the joint
  • How is Osteoarthritis diagnosed?

A healthcare professional can get an indication that osteoarthritis is present based on the patient’s signs and symptoms. An x-ray is a good way to confirm this as bony changes associated with osteoarthritis can be shown.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis:

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Reduction in joint range of motion
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness over the joint
  • Often this stiffness and loss of range of motion is especially noticed in the mornings or after not moving for some time. These symptoms often will ease with movement.

How to relieve symptoms:

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, however, exercise has been proven to help manage symptoms and improve the range of motion in affected joints. It is recommended that people with osteoarthritis meet the exercise guidelines recommended for adults, that being 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Additionally, it is recommended that they participate in strengthening exercises.

Evidence shows us that a wide range of exercise can have a positive impact on osteoarthritis including aerobic exercise, aquatic exercise, range of motion exercises and strengthening.

Range of motion exercises or stretching can help to improve the range in joints and reduce stiffness. Strengthening exercises can work to build up more strength surrounding the joints and help to reduce pain. Aquatic exercises can help to relieve pain through the heat provided in the pool and reduce pressure on the joints as a result of buoyancy.

If you are overweight and have osteoarthritis losing some weight can also work to reduce symptoms as there is less pressure going through the joints.

For the best and long-lasting results exercise needs to be continued regularly to manage symptoms.

Booking in with a physiotherapist is a great way to develop an exercise plan that is targeted to your symptoms. A physiotherapist can work with you to get you back to the activities that you love and improve your function in osteoarthritis-affected joints.