There are numerous things you can do to help an osteoarthritic knee and one of them is exercise, explains expert Jane Connolly of Whalley Physio

Should an osteoarthritic (OA) knee stop you from exercising? Absolutely not! As long as the chosen exercise doesn’t increase pain or swelling there is outstanding evidence that moderate exercise can actual help strengthen the muscles around the joint, decrease bone loss, replenish lubrication to the cartilage and control joint swelling, stiffness and pain.

It can also play an important role in long-term weight management, a contribution to OA progression. Our joints need movement and exercise to stimulate repair and keep the muscles strong and while rest is important, especially during flare ups, inactivity can make symptoms worse. A key factor is that muscles act to absorb forces put through the joint as well as initiating and causing movement.

It’s important to recognise that the weak muscle groups may not be directly around the affected joint, ie walking with a limp due to knee pain or stiffness alters the gait pattern which in turn has a knock on effect on the functioning of muscles higher in the chain, predominantly the gluts (buttock) muscles, which in turn exaggerates the forces through the knee resulting in a viscous circle. Appropriate exercises are the key and although advice can seem contradictory – do I stop if it hurts when it hurts all the time – the secret is to begin slowly and progress gradually, stopping if the pain gets worse or changes.

What are the common signs of OA knee? Usually pain and stiffness around the knee itself which is worse in the morning or after inactivity but eases gradually with gentle movement. Often there is mild swelling around the joint which becomes more effuse if the joint is inflamed and sometimes there’s a cracking or grating associated with movement.

Physiotherapy is an important part of OA management. With a careful assessment of joint movement, muscle length, strength and endurance and identifying any bio-mechanical abnormalities a physiotherapist can advise on the correct exercises to reduce pain while strengthening and lengthening the muscles around the joint without causing further damage.

They can advise on the use of heat or ice and how best to manage the condition by recommending any braces or splints necessary to support a joint. If joint replacement surgery has been necessary then they will advise how to get up and about as soon as possible. Ultrasound, massage and mobilising techniques can also help reduce swelling and restore range of motion and flexibility around the affected and compromised joints.
So, the bottom line is – can I exercise? Yes you can!



Tedd Walmsley

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