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Dr Kathryn Dao, associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Rheumatic Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Centre

Exercise is one of the best ways to keep osteoarthritis at bay: Expert

Exercise is one of the best ways to keep the effects of osteoarthritis, a condition characterised by degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone, causing pain and stiffness, especially in the hip, knee, and thumb joints and is usually common from middle age onward at bay, Dr Kathryn Dao, an associate professor of internal medicine in the Division of Rheumatic Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Centre said.

“While the pain from osteoarthritis worsens with activity and improves with rest, exercise is still the most cost-effective treatment,” Dr Dao said.

“Studies have shown exercise can build cartilage, strengthen muscles, and improve joint function and bone mass. Patients who exercise also have better balance and a lower risk of falling,” she added.

Pointing out that osteoarthritis affects an estimated 1 in 7 adults in the United States, Dr Dao further stated that it is caused by degenerative changes in the cartilage that connects joints and cushions the ends of bones.

According to her, while osteoarthritis is common with ageing, it also can result from prior sports injuries, traumas, or previous surgeries,

“Putting repetitive stress on a joint, whether through sports or a job, may increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis,” she cautioned.

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Stressing that obesity is another risk factor, as excess pounds stress weight-bearing joints such as the lower back, knees, and hips Dr Dao added, “People who previously had inflammatory arthritis such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis are also more prone to getting osteoarthritis.”

Doctors advise that people should exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight to prevent or control osteoarthritis symptoms. At the same time, adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

Dr Dao recommends that people starting an exercise programme start at a low-intensity level for a shorter duration and progressively increase to moderate or high activity levels to accomplish a daily target of 30 minutes.

However, if 30 continuous minutes of exercise proves difficult, she proposes breaking it down to two 15-minute sessions daily.

Pointing out that choosing the proper exercise is just as important, Dr Dao said, “High-impact activities such as jumping, long-distance running, stair climbing, or heavy lifting of weights may cause more pain.”

“Low-impact exercises such as swimming, bicycling, Pilates, yoga, and walking on level ground are better tolerated and effective in patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis,” Dr Dao noted. “Stretching before and after a workout also helps to loosen the muscles and lubricates the joints to prevent injury.”

Dr Dao suggests consulting a doctor for a possible referral to a physical therapist or a trainer who would design a customised programme to optimise a workout while minimising the risk of harm for people with intense pain or weakness.

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