How is exercise used to treat osteoarthritis?

Regular exercise has been a central component of any plan for conservative management of osteoarthritis (OA). Exercise is thought to be the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement for people with OA. Exercise can be prescribed to facilitate the following in people with OA:

  • weight loss
  • preservation of joint range of motion
  • strength improvement
  • functional performance improvement
  • reduction of symptoms

Exercise is frequently used to treat osteoarthritis, whether or not a person is overweight. Exercise can improve mood and outlook, decrease pain, increase flexibility, improve the heart and blood flow, maintain weight and promote general physical fitness. It is also inexpensive and, if done correctly, has few negative side effects. The amount and form of exercise a person can do will depend on which joints are involved, how stable the joints are and whether a joint replacement has already been done.

Exercise can produce generalized improvement as well as specific effects. When it comes to osteoarthritis of the knee, the level of muscle strength in the thigh muscle (quadriceps) and perhaps in the muscles around the hips are important. Strengthening these muscles can relieve symptoms. Walking can result in better functioning and increased walking distance.

In addition, there is evidence that yoga and tai chi can help reduce osteoarthritis pain. These alternative forms of exercise combine gentle exercises, stretching and deep breathing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.