What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and occurs when the protective cartilage that provides cushion and support at the ends of bones gradually wears down. This is a degenerative disease that can worsen over time, often resulting in chronic pain affecting your day-to-day activities. Eventually if the cartilage wears down completely, the bones in the joint will rub directly on each other exacerbating the symptoms.
Common Symptoms of OA
- Pain and Tenderness
- Joint Stiffness
- Muscle Weakness and Loss of Flexibility
- Grating Sensation
- Bone Spurs- not a symptom but a sign
Most Common Risk Factors
- Old Age
- Articular surfaces on the end of bones can wear down over time due to the natural aging process that occurs to muscles, joints, and bones.
- Excess weight puts more stress on the joints (commonly occurs to weight bearing joints such as the hip and knee).
- Repeated Stress on the Joint
- Over time this will cause the articular surfaces to wear down.
- Joint Injuries
- A break or tear can lead to the development of OA over time.
- Genetics and Certain Metabolic Diseases
- People with a family history of OA are at a greater risk.
Treatment for OA
An effective approach is seeking physiotherapy treatment at earlier stages, accompanied with an exercise program specific to you. You may feel some discomfort during exercising, but this feeling is normal and should calm down. If it is unbearable then do not continue with the exercise. Of course with any exercise, there are always risks associated, therefore consult your doctor prior to beginning any new exercise program.
Exercise has many benefits for ALL people including improved health, fitness, and mood. Many people believe that exercising with OA could harm your joints and cause more pain, but research shows that people can and should exercise when they have OA. It is considered the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in those with OA.
Recommended Types of Exercise
So now we know that exercise can ease symptoms of arthritis, but what is best for you? Well that varies from person to person so here are a few main categories of exercises to include in your program:
This category includes exercises that will help to improve or maintain the range of motion of the affected joint(s). By relieving stiffness in the joint and increasing the ability for the joint to move through its full range, you will decrease the risk of further damage, improve the function of the limb and joint, and decrease overall pain. There are two main categories of stretching to consider:
- Dynamic Stretching: these are movement-based stretches that involve multiple joints. They should be performed prior to activity to prepare the body.
- Static Stretching: these are stretches that take the muscle to its end range before holding that position for a minimum of 30 seconds. These stretches should be performed after activity when the muscle is already warmed up.
These exercises work to build stronger muscles to help support and protect the joints. This allows for offloading of the affected joint which has the potential to relieve many symptoms. It is recommended to engage in strengthening exercises 2-3 days/week. Examples of strengthening exercises include lifting a limb against gravity, using free weights or elastic bands, or weight machines requiring you to push or pull against resistance.
3. Aerobic / Endurance
These exercises help with overall fitness and improve your cardiovascular health. They typically involve the use of large muscle groups in the body in a repetitive and rhythmic manner. Canada’s guidelines for adults are to achieve 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. This intensity typically involves you to breathe a little harder and sweat but not be out of breath. Activities falling under this category include walking, biking, dancing, or even everyday activities such as mowing the lawn or shoveling as long as you are achieving a moderate- to vigorous-intensity.
This is a fourth, less recognized category that is very important to consider in your exercise plan. These exercises will target smaller groups of muscles to decrease your risk of falling and can help improve your ability to do other exercises. Balance exercises include anything with a smaller or unstable base of support such as performing activities on a foam pad or single legged exercises.
Arthritis doesn’t have to keep you from living your life and participating in your everyday activities. Exercise and arthritis should coexist! Research has shown that people with osteoarthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, improved sleep and a better day-to-day function. Work with your Physiotherapist to create an exercise program that is right for you and kick start your road to a healthier life!