Osteoarthritis and Exercise


There are over 100 forms of arthritis that cause various types of joint inflammation. Osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting approximately 27 million Americans and acting as the leading cause of disability in the elderly. It can affect any joint, but it is most common in joints that bear weight and/or experience highly repetitive use, such as those of the knee, hip, lower back, neck, and hands. According to research done by the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project, over the course of  a lifetime people have a 46 percent risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee, and a 25 percent risk of developing it in the hip.

Osteoarthritis is commonly referred to as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, because it stems from the wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of bones. Cartilage functions to reduce friction and absorb some of the impact put on joints by activity; the change in cartilage due to osteoarthritis from smooth to rough to nonexistent can eventually cause numerous health issues, including joint pain, loss of flexibility and functionality, joint tenderness and stiffness, swelling, bone spurs, and an audible and/or tactile grating sensation in the joint.

While the specific cause of osteoarthritis is not known, there are several factors that may contribute to it.  These include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Injury or overuse (athletes, jobs (machine operator, landscaping, typing, etc.)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone deformities
  • Other disease conditions (rheumatoid arthritis; gout; Paget’s disease; diabetes, iron overload; excess growth hormone; underactive thyroid)

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, there are several different treatment options for slowing its progression, managing its symptoms (especially pain), and improving some lost or hindered joint function. Each individual with osteoarthritis will likely need a unique, customized treatment that matches their specific needs, consisting of varying amounts and types of one or more of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Medications (both over the counter and prescription may be appropriate), topical treatments, and injections
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Use of assistive devices (crutches, canes, orthotics, etc.)
  • Surgery

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