Risk of Knee Osteoarthritis: Exercise Lowers it by 30%

By Western Berks Physical Therapy on July 29th, 2020

How Exercise Lowers your Risk of Knee Osteoarthritis

People at high risk for knee osteoarthritis may be nervous and reluctant to participate in strenuous physical activities such as jogging, cycling, singles tennis and skiing. However, a new Northwestern Medicine study that followed high-risk individuals for 10 years showed vigorous exercise did not increase their risk of developing knee osteoarthritis and may even protect them from it.

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 32.5 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The knee is the most commonly affected joint. The lifetime risk of developing symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (as diagnosed on an x-ray) is approximately 38% to 45%. The estimated median age of diagnosis is 55 years.

A 10 year observational study followed 1,194 participants with a high risk of knee osteoarthritis. The study concluded that long-term participation in strenuous physical activities was not associated with risk of developing radiographic knee osteoarthritis. In fact, the vigorously exercising individuals in the study were 30% less likely to develop osteoarthritis. The activities included jogging, swimming, cycling, singles tennis, aerobic dance and skiing.

Excessive body weight, history of joint injury or surgery, aging and chronic knee symptoms place an individual at elevated risk for developing knee osteoarthritis. Although regular physical activity and exercise provide multiple health benefits, many people feel uncertain about whether vigorous physical activity could cause pain and further tissue damage. The evidence in this case is clear. Alison Chang, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at Northwestern University says ,”Our study findings convey a reassuring message that adults at high risk for knee osteoarthritis may safely engage in long-term strenuous physical activity at a moderate level to improve their general health and well-being.

While a moderate activity level is recommended for reducing your risk of knee osteoarthritis, recreational activities are not a substitute for therapeutic exercises designed by a physical therapist. Finding an exercise program that fits your unique lifestyle and osteoarthritis symptoms is important for managing your condition. Physical therapists are well versed in osteoarthritis treatment, particularly in the knee. Many other current studies support the success and safety of physical therapy for osteoarthritis. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine found physical therapy to be as effective as surgery for treating knee osteoarthritis and meniscal tears.

Osteoarthritis can be very painful, and when it strikes the knee, it can be particularly debilitating and frustrating to manage. Fortunately, our physical therapist’s skills and experience can help relieve knee pain and osteoarthritis symptoms to improve your quality of life. This will aid in preventing further deterioration of the knee while simultaneously strengthening the surrounding muscles and improving the fitness and mobility of your entire body.

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