Q: Does exercise improve or worsen arthritis of the knees?
A: Osteoarthritis, the most common type of knee arthritis, is when cartilage in the knee breaks down due to wear-and-tear. Current clinical guidelines identify exercise as a core part of managing knee osteoarthritis. A wide body of research shows that exercise interventions can reduce pain, improve ability to function in daily life and improve people’s quality of life. Strengthening, flexibility and aerobic exercise all provide benefit, and best results seem to come when all three are made part of a regular lifestyle. Strength-training (also called resistance exercise) not only builds muscle strength, it helps improve mechanics of how the knee joint moves and may normalize the way muscles fire, reducing joint pain and further cartilage destruction. However, individual differences in the severity of arthritis and its specific location matter, so it’s essential you get recommendations and monitoring by your doctor, physical therapist or other qualified health care professional.
Clinical guidelines for treating knee osteoarthritis also recommend weight loss for those who are overweight. Excess weight puts strain on the knees and is a risk factor for developing knee osteoarthritis. In a clinical trial of overweight and obese people with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis, the group assigned to both diet and exercise, rather than exercise alone, had less inflammation, less pain, better functioning and improved quality of life. When people lost 10 percent or more of their starting weight they got the greatest reduction in inflammation and pain.