3 exercises to help manage osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, where the cartilage protecting bones breaks down, exposing the ends of the bones and leading to pain, stiffness and swelling. It’s the most common form of arthritis in Australia, and most often impacts the knees and hips. These joints bear the weight for the legs, so regular exercises for osteoarthritis will help keep leg muscles strong and flexible.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis are often worst in the mornings, during or after exercise, after sitting or standing for long periods, or at the end of the day. These symptoms usually start off mild, but worsen over time.
What are the best exercises for osteoarthritis?
Your workout should ideally focus on abdominal and lower limb muscle strength and joint mobility, pelvic stability, leg alignment and balance. Keep in mind that any exercise you do should not aggravate your symptoms, and consult your GP before starting a new exercise program.
Here are a few exercises for osteoarthritis to try.
Strength training involves using weights or your own body weight to build muscle mass and, of course, strength. Strengthening your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals and abdominals will support and decompress the joints, which may help you manage some of the pain that comes with osteoarthritis. Most community centres and gyms provide group exercise classes for active adults, which also provide social benefits.
Gyms also generally offer a complementary personal weights and training program upon joining. If you have a personal trainer, work on strengthening isolated muscle groups, as well as functional movements that help you do everyday activities like sitting and standing.
Pilates movements are versatile and easily modified, so they’re an ideal exercise for osteoarthritis management. Like any mode of exercise, they must be done correctly to ensure safety and effectiveness. You can do group Pilates in a studio or gym, or work privately with a physiotherapist who uses Pilates as part of their practice.
Hydrotherapy – using water to treat a particular condition – is great way to exercise for osteoarthritis. When you work out in a pool, for example, the buoyancy helps to decompress the joints, the hydrostatic effect of the water on the limbs reduces swelling and the water provides continual resistance for muscle strengthening.
Activities and movements are often easier when performed in water, which makes you feel good. Remember when you used to do handstands in the pool as a kid?
Bonus tip: the benefits of a weight loss diet plan for osteoarthritis
Exercises for osteoarthritis aren’t the only way to alleviate symptoms: another effective strategy is weight management. Think of your skeleton like the timber frame in a single-storey house – the frame can only support a certain amount of weight. If you add an extra storey, the original frame will buckle under the pressure. If you’re carrying extra weight, your joints will be over-compressed and more likely to degenerate.
If you think you might be overweight, ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian. A dietitian will ensure you’re eating the right amount of the right foods, and help you set measurable, achievable goals for reaching a healthy weight for managing osteoarthritis.