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  • Writer's pictureMatt Kurz PT, DPT

Osteoarthritis: Can Exercise Help?

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of degenerative joint disease classified by swelling and inflammation of a joint that results from progressive loss of cartilage. Osteoarthritis affects more than 30 million people in the U.S. alone (women more than men) and is the most common articular disorder of the developed world. OA is also a leading cause of chronic disability.


Osteoarthritis’s Prevalence

Lifestyle factors are the leading cause of degenerative changes. Prolonged periods of sitting, general inactivity/weakness and a lack of variety in our movements can create bio-mechanical imbalances around a joint which may cause accelerated wear. Combine this with the common western diet, which may lead to greater systemic inflammation, and the increase in OA begins to make sense. Finally, genetics have also been linked to degenerative changes and those with a family history of degenerative changes have been shown to have a greater chance of developing OA.

While OA is so prevalent, it is unfortunately not always addressed. A recent study showed that as many as 55% of individuals with hip OA did not seek care. When degenerative changes begin to appear, it is best to address the issue early.


How exercise can help!

1. Strengthening: Muscular strength can help manage the forces on and around the joint. Muscles are responsible for movement, but they are also responsible for stability. Promoting strength within surrounding musculature helps reduce the need for stability to come from the joint surface itself.

2. Stretching and soft tissue work: Addressing tight tissues can help balance the forces and improve the biomechanics of a joint. Tightness in musculature surrounding a joint can increase compressive forces as well as cause an unequal distribution of forces on the joint which may accelerate wear.

3. Synovial Fluid: Exercise and general movement promote the circulation of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is like oil in a motor: it functions as a lubricant that decreases the friction between the articular surfaces. This is why many with OA report movement actually decreases pain.

4. Blood flow: Exercise improves blood flow not only to the muscles surrounding the joint, but also to the joint itself. Blood is delivered to the synovial membrane and facilitates healing and maintenance of synovial health.

5. Genes: Skeletal loading that occurs during resistive exercise has been shown to turn on genes responsible for increasing bone density and repairing joint cartilage. It is important to work with a physical therapist to facilitate a gradual increase in loading, as initially tolerance to these type of activities may be low.

If you are suffering from OA, contact us at (603) 273-1570 to see if physical therapy is right for you!

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