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Exercise and Osteoarthritis

Exercise and Osteoarthritis

What is OA?

Osteoarthritis (i.e. OA) is a common chronic condition that typically affects the knees, hips, low back and neck as well as small joints in the fingers and the big toe. OA is the degeneration of cartilage that takes place between joints due to “wear and tear” over time. In healthy joints, cartilage acts as a cushion to reduce friction and allow for smooth movement between bones. However, when that cartilage breaks down it can cause symptoms such as joint stiffness, swelling, pain and clicking.

Who does OA affect?

OA typically affects those over the age of 65 years, but it can occur in people of all age groups. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 1 in 2 adults will develop symptoms of knee OA in their lifetime, 1 in 4 adults will have symptoms of hip OA by age 85 and 1 in 12 people over the age of 60 have OA in their hands.

What can I do?

Although OA is a chronic condition, there are many things that can be done to improve daily functioning. Physical activity is one of the most effective methods of conservative treatment for OA. Many studies suggest that the cartilage between your joints responds beneficially to the mechanical stimulation of exercise. However, if no stimulation occurs, further cartilage thinning can take place. In addition, exercise assists with body weight management which helps to reduce the pressure on our joints and decrease symptoms overtime.

After being cleared by your healthcare professional, various forms of exercise can be prescribed in order to decrease pain and swelling, improve strength, increase range of motion and maximize your functional performance. Recommended exercises for OA include low-impact aerobic activities such as walking, biking, swimming or other aquatic exercise programs. Research shows that aquatic-based activities (e.g. Aqua Fit) are preferred to land-based ones because the buoyancy of water helps to reduce knee and hip joint compression. Seated bicycling is another great option that allows you to move your knee joint within a large range while still maintaining knee stability and reducing high-impact forces. Joint-specific resistance training has also been shown to improve muscle strength, decrease pain and improve quality of life for those with OA. However, evidence has shown that strength training should be combined with range of motion, stretching, balance and functional training for optimal results.

It is important to consult a medical professional before beginning any new exercise program. Book an appointment with one of our rehabilitation specialists to complete a full assessment and create an individualized treatment program for you!

Written by: Vanessa Younes, MScPT