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Published on September 30, 2014

Exercise is Actually Good for Arthritis

If you have an achy knee, your initial reaction is probably to rest your leg.

But if arthritis is the cause of your knee pain, that’s actually the last thing you should be doing. Contrary to what most people believe, exercise initially is a good way to treat an arthritic joint.

“The worst thing you can do is
not use the joints because muscles become weak and your joints become stiff,” said Dr. Jeffrey Vakil, an orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute of Abington Health. “However, patients fear exercise because they think it can make it worse.”

Mobility and Strength

Our joints require both mobility and strength to be healthy. And when arthritis limits one’s range of motion, it’s important to keep your muscles strong so they can help your joints function better. “Arthritis can be a pain generator, but it’s better to have strong muscles than a weak or stiff joint,” said Dr. Vakil.

How is it a better scenario?

Well, once range of motion is compromised, it’s extremely difficult to get it back. And since resting an arthritic joint, such as your knee, further weakens it, it can become even harder to do basic activities such as walking up the stairs and getting out of a chair.

“If you make your muscles strong, your joints will also function as best as possible,” said Dr. Vakil.

Recommendations

While the recommended type of exercise depends on where the arthritis is, low-impact activities are generally the best approach. A physical therapist can help guide you with the best exercises for your condition.

For those with hip arthritis, it’s important to exercise all muscles around the hip joint, such as hip flexors, extensors, and abductors. Exercises for this part of the body include straight leg raises, abductor and adductor exercises, as well as exercises for hip flexor and extensor muscles.

If you have arthritis in the knee, you’ll want to focus most on your quadriceps and hamstrings. Straight leg raises, for example, are great for working arthritic knees since it puts less pressure across your joints.

Low-impact athletic activities such as fast walking, swimming, biking, and water aerobics are also great for those with hip or knee arthritis.

Is Rest Ever a Good Option?

“Unless they’re in a significant amount of pain, not really,” said Dr. Vakil. “We want people to keep moving, we don’t want them to be withheld from activities.”

But if you find that you receive no benefits from exercise and other types of conservative treatments, including anti-inflammatories, injections, and weight loss, it may be time to discuss more aggressive approaches with your surgeon, such as total joint replacement surgery.

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