OSTEOARTHRITIS: What it is, Who it Affects, and Why Exercising is the Best Non-Drug Treatment for it!
By: Molly Householder, Wellness Program Coordinator
Sometimes called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting approximately 27 million Americans. Although it occurs in people of all ages, osteoarthritis is most common in people older than 65.
In osteoarthritis, there is a breakdown in the cartilage covering the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint and allow movement. As the cartilage wears away, the bones become exposed and rub against each other. The deterioration of cartilage also affects the shape and makeup of the joint so that it no longer functions smoothly. You may notice a limp when you walk, or you may have trouble going up and down stairs because those movements put additional stress on the joint.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary, depending on which joints are affected and how severely they are affected. However, the most common symptoms are stiffness, particularly first thing in the morning or after resting, and pain. The most commonly affected joints are the lower back, hips, knees and feet. When those joints are affected you may have difficulty with such activities as walking, climbing stairs and lifting objects.
While you may worry that exercising with osteoarthritis could harm your joints and cause more pain, research shows that people can and should exercise when they have osteoarthritis. Exercise is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis.
Three kinds of exercise are important for people with osteoarthritis: exercises involving range of motion, also called flexibility exercises; endurance or aerobic exercises; and strengthening exercises. Each one plays a role in maintaining and improving your ability to move and function.
Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about exercising with osteoarthritis and the specific exercises that are best for you.
Range-of-motion exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly – ideally every day – can help maintain and even improve the flexibility in your joints.
Aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and make your lungs more efficient. This conditioning has the added benefit of reducing fatigue, so you have more stamina throughout the day.
Strengthening exercises help maintain and improve your muscle strength. Strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis.