Exercise may be the answer to osteoarthritis prevention and treatment

July 9, 2013

Topic: sports medicine

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In the U.S., millions of Americans experience symptoms of osteoarthritis, which can include pain, tenderness, stiffness and loss of sensation at the joints. However, there may be an easy lifestyle change that patients can try to ease these ailments - exercise.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine state that a balanced fitness program can be successful in preventing or reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. People can exercise for 30 to 45 minutes, three to five days a week, to decrease the severity of pain and inflammation in joints, improve flexibility and range of motion, maintain a healthy weight, enhance muscle strength and endurance, and improve balance and coordination.

"While vigorous participation in sports and exercise over many years certainly can contribute to the wear and tear that causes osteoarthritis, an ongoing active lifestyle that includes regular, moderate-intensity, no- or low-impact exercise also is the best way to prevent and ease osteoarthritis symptoms and disease progression," said David Teuscher, M.D., second vice president of AAOS and an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.

Many Americans deal with joint problems
There are more than 27 million American who have osteoarthritis and experience disability that affects their overall quality of life, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in every two individuals may develop osteoarthritis of the knee at some point in their life.

There are initiatives taking place in the country that strive to increase awareness of osteoarthritis. For instance, the National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis aims to make evidence-based intervention strategies, such as self-management education, physical activity, injury prevention and weight management, more accessible. It supports the overall need for research to better learn how the orthopaedic problem affects people, its risk factors and how it can be effectively managed.

Designing a successful exercise program
When designing an exercise program, there are specific components that can make it successful.

The AOSSM states that an exercise program should consist of four parts: warm-up, stretching, cardio and strength training.

To warm up, you can walk quickly for five minutes or ride a stationary bike. This is necessary to get the body ready to stretch, which is essential for flexibility and joint health. You should perform a variety of stretches that work different muscles in the body and hold them for 20 to 30 seconds each. Some examples include standing and reaching for your toes, as well as reaching your hands over your head and slightly pulling one wrist to one side and then doing the same on the other side.

Once the body is warmed up, you can engage in cardio, or aerobic, activities. Pick something that is easy on the joints and maintains flexibility, motion and strength, like riding a stationary bike, doing water aerobics or using elliptical trainers. This should be the bulk of your workout.

Finally, you can end your session with strength training, or anaerobic activity. This can work to prevent and treat osteoarthritis. Some good exercises are step lunges, abdominal crunches and leg lifts. 

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