Arthritis is an umbrella term used for more than 100 medical conditions affecting the joints of the human body causing stiffness, inflammation, pain and damage to joint structures. This can further lead to joint instability, deformities and weakness ultimately interfering with activities of daily living eg. Housework, food prep, and walking.
3.85 million Australians are affected by this condition as it is the major cause for disability and chronic pain in the country. As a result, the cost to our economy equates to more than $23.9 billion/year in medical care and secondary costs eg. Lost production and earnings.
To prevent and manage the onset of this disease, early intervention is necessary as to reduce the incidence of the condition thus reducing costs to the economy and maintaining and improving patient’s quality of life and physical function.
One of the main forms of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA) which can be most commonly seen in the hip or knee. An intervention which most definitely plays an important role in the management and prevention of this chronic disabling disease is exercise. High-quality evidence demonstrates that reductions in pain and physical function improvements in patients with OA of the knee is a direct cause of exercise. In particular, resistance exercise – being use of external resistance load (eg. Free weights, machines, bands and bodyweight) forcing contraction of skeletal muscle – is successful in normalising joint biomechanics and muscle firing patterns for knee OA.
Exercise Intervention – Resistance exercise
OA of the knee has been linked to decreased muscular strength, altered muscle firing patterns and increased stiffness of ligaments. What resistance exercise does for this condition by improving joint biomechanics and muscle recruitment is lead to reductions in pain and cartilage degradation, and restoration of muscular strength whilst improving physical function. It is important to note that individuals with knee OA will often experience weakness of hip musculature which happens to affect mechanics of the entire lower limb. Thus, not only is it necessary to aim to strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles (knee extensor and flexor, respectively) but also hip muscles including the gluteals, hip flexors, adductors and lateral rotators. Resistance exercise plays an important role in managing and preventing OA as it reduces pain experienced and improves physical function in individuals with this chronic disease.
Knee OA Example
By appropriately strengthening the muscle groups mentioned, individuals with knee OA can expect improvements in walking endurance, maximal gait speed, stair climbing ability, chair standing ability, balance and health-related quality of life. For knee OA, benefits can be obtained by undertaking leg exercises alone, or in a combination with other lower and upper body exercises for further strengthening. Common OA prescriptions for the knee should include seated leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls. The inclusion of hip adduction and hip abduction as well as calf presses can help to not only improve knee mechanics but also to maintain it over time.
Accredited exercise physiologist’s (AEP) are the health professional one should seek if OA is a debilitating factor in their life or they wish to prevent the onset of this condition whilst improving overall physical and mental health. AEP’s will appropriately program for individuals with OA whilst also taking into consideration an individual’s other health limitations and goals. Have a look at our Arthritis program and book in your free health consultation today!