Moderate and balanced exercise is key to the long term management of osteoarthritis as well as many other rheumatology conditions.  Despite advice to stay active patients often worry that by exercising with aching joints that they will accelerate the arthritic process and lead to increased symptoms of pain and discomfort.  By and large, any potential negative impact of exercise such as jogging, walking or swimming on the joints is by far outweighed by the benefits of remaining active.

Engaging in aerobic exercise improves your cardiovascular health as well as improving muscle tone, strength and coordination.  Improving muscle strength is essential to the management of osteoarthritic joints, specifically in the case of osteoarthritis of the knees – quad strengthening forms a major component of the rehabilitation.  In the case of the condition affecting the lower back – core strengthening is necessary.  So it quickly becomes apparent that rather than something to be avoided exercise should be embraced by sufferers of osteoarthritis. 

What about high intensity work outs like jogging, step aerobics or dance?

High intensity weight bearing exercise dose put joints under pressure, but again the majority of individuals will benefit from this type of exercise more than they stand to suffer.

The case is often described of a middle aged slightly overweight gentleman who plays indoor football once a week for an hour.  Otherwise he has a sedentary occupation and takes no other exercise.  The gentleman is beginning to complain of knee pain and an x-ray of the knee shows early signs of arthritis.  The question is what should this gentleman be advised?

Change the type of exercise.  Perhaps try swimming or other non-weight bearing activity.  This approach is unlikely to work.  The gentleman enjoys his football has played all his life and is not about to change now.  The likelihood is if we advise him to stop the football then he quits exercising altogether.

There’s a strong case to continue to let this gentleman to play indoor football.  The sixty minutes of exercise once a week is all he gets and the likely deterioration in his knee condition is probably offset by the benefits otherwise to his cardiovascular health and psychological wellbeing. 

There’s no correct answer but physiotherapists usually want to keep people moving!!