by Kate Maliha, MA (HKin)
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage and surrounding bone of an affected joint degenerates, causing pain, stiffness and often chronic low-grade inflammation. Research on osteoarthritis has been commonly focused on the knees for good reason: we load these joints (put weight on them) in daily movement. Both repetitive and extreme positions can cause wear and tear on the joint and lead to the development of osteoarthritis. While there is no cure for this condition, exercise can reduce disability and control the pain of knee osteoarthritis. Both resistance training and aerobic exercise have been shown to help manage the symptoms and prevent further joint degeneration and even reduce the cycle of inflammation (Arthritis Society, 2015; Kravitz & Thomas, 2014). Specifically, some moderate intensity and low-impact forms of exercise such as walking, biking, water exercise and strength training can be particularly effective at building strength around the knee without causing further joint damage. Research suggests that beginners should start slowly, and work to accumulating 150 minutes weekly of low-impact cardiovascular activity (spread throughout the week). In addition, two weekly sessions of strengthening exercise should be performed, focusing on the lower body muscles. Those who are new to exercise should begin with exercise that is not weight bearing (such as gentle cycling or swimming) and progress to weight bearing activity (walking, strength training exercises performed while standing). Stretches to reduce pressure on the knee joints should include both the calves and hamstrings. To strengthen the muscles around the knees, try these two exercises:
Straight Leg Raise
Recline on your back on the floor. Then, lift yourself up to support your upper body with your elbows. Bend your left knee and keep that foot on the floor. While keeping the right leg straight and toes pointed up, squeeze your quadriceps muscles and raise your right leg, then lower it to back to the ground. If it is uncomfortable or too hard to do this exercise on the floor, try it while seated on a chair. Work up to performing two sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
Raise yourself up on the seat of a chair with pillows or cushions so that you stay higher and experience less knee flexion (bend) for this exercise. Begin by sitting on the chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your quadriceps and buttocks while slowly standing up. Slowly lower yourself down again while contracting the leg and buttocks muscles again, until you are in a seated position. Work up to two sets of 10 repetitions.
Not all people can safely perform these exercises, so be sure to have clearance from your doctor before you begin this or any other exercise program. This article does not constitute medical advice.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics, is a Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the Director of Love Your Age Fitness Inc. (http://www.LoveYourAge.ca), a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.
Sources: Kravitz, L. & Thomas, J. (2014). “Exercise Benefits People with Osteoarthritis”; IDEA Fitness Journal 11 (4)