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Arthritis is a very common ailment and is especially prevalent in older people. It is the number one cause of disability and results in joint pain and loss of flexibility and movement. Arthritis is not an individual disease or disorder, but a term used to refer to the symptoms of a range of disorders. There are more than 100 conditions, which all produce arthritic symptoms, and for many sufferers, the condition and symptoms become worse over time. However, studies show that undertaking the right kind of exercise can significantly reduce the pain and swelling, as well as the escalation of arthritis conditions. This is especially so for osteoarthritis in the knees.

Keeping osteoarthritis knee pain at bay

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees may come and go; sometimes they can seem mild or moderate and at other times severe. Many people report that their osteoarthritis stays the same for years and is largely manageable, but for many others, it can get worse over time, leading to a serious change of lifestyle. This is because the knees are critically important in mobility and once we stop being able to use our knees, a whole range of other conditions can quickly emerge.

Once osteoarthritis becomes severe, chronic pain and loss of function can result in the inability to do basic, everyday activities such as walking, standing, rising from a chair or climbing stairs. The combination of the symptoms of arthritis, alongside the lack of movement, can contribute to permanent joint problems. These issues are often visible in the knees as lumps and bumps around the knee joints. However, even at advanced stages of osteoarthritis of the knee, exercise can still help.

Which exercises are best for osteoarthritis of the knee?

It is understandable that whilst someone is in pain the last thing on their mind might be exercise. Besides the discomfort, they may worry that exercising the affected joint could injure the area further and cause more pain. However, research overwhelmingly shows that people with osteoarthritis can and should exercise. Exercise is considered by far the most effective treatment besides medicine, for reducing pain and improving function in osteoarthritis.

Each of the following types of exercises plays a role in maintaining and improving the ability to move and function:

Range of motion or flexibility exercises. Range of motion refers to the ability to move your joints through the full motion they were designed to achieve. These exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly can help maintain and improve the flexibility in the joints.

Aerobic/endurance exercises. These exercises strengthen the heart and make the lungs more efficient. This conditioning also reduces fatigue and builds stamina. Aerobic exercise also helps control weight by increasing the amount of calories the body uses. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming.

Strengthening exercises. These exercises help maintain and improve muscle strength. Strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis.

Two types of exercise are particularly good for most people with osteoarthritis.

Walking. It is (usually) free, it is easy on the joints and it comes with a host of benefits. One major plus is that it improves circulation – and wards off heart disease, lowers blood pressure and, as an aerobic exercise, strengthens the heart. It also lowers the risk of fractures (by stopping or slowing down the loss of bone mass) and tones muscles that support joints.

Aquatic (water) exercises. These are particularly helpful for people just beginning to exercise as well as those who are overweight. Aquatic exercises do not involve swimming, rather they are performed while standing in about shoulder-height water. The water helps relieve the pressure of your body’s weight on the affected joints (hips and knees in particular), while providing resistance for your muscles to get stronger. Regular aquatic exercise can help relieve pain and improve daily function in people with hip and knee OA.

The essential 3 exercise areas

For people with osteoarthritis, of all varieties, three kinds of exercise are considered crucial and these focus on:

Making sure you do all three can help maintain and improve movement and function, while decreasing pain and swelling.

Combining diet & exercise

It’s important to know that people experiencing osteoarthritis of the knees often complain of unwanted and unexpected weight gain. This is probably due to a reduction in movement and a slowing down of the metabolism so it is worth taking a look at your diet. While this is understandable, it is also essential that we combat the onset of weight gain as much as possible. Weight gain is a risk factor in both the development and the advancement of osteoarthritis in the knees. This is because, for every kilo of weight you gain, your knees gain three kilos of added stress. Weight gain is the number one cause of deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the knee joints and it is something best avoided if possible.

While osteoarthritis in the knees can be a very debilitating condition, it is important to remember that there are plenty of activities you can do to improve the condition and fend of its progression. At first, exercising may seem like an impossible task, but as strength and fitness returns, most people recognise the difference that regular physical activity makes. As long as you exercise gently and at your own pace, there is very little risk of aggravating the condition further and at the same time, there is so much to gain.

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