Osteoarthritis affects more than 25 million Americans according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that half of those individuals with this degenerative joint disease have the disease in their knees. This condition causes unrelenting pain when the cartilage wears away from the ends of the joints. People with osteoarthritis may resist starting an exercise program. However, research shows that focusing on muscle strength around the joints can reduce the advancement of osteoarthritis. Whether the disease is advanced or in the early stages, exercise will help diminish the pain and progression of osteoarthritis. Check with your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program, and notify your doctor of any signs of injury.
Here are seven exercises to slow the progression:
- Water Aerobics. This exercise is low impact yet builds strength in muscles. Lifting weights or performing lunges may be too much for some. However, water aerobics is an excellent alternative. Some classes provide water weights to assist with muscle development. The buoyancy of the water will relieve additional stress on the joints while working out.
- Wall Slides. This exercise works the same muscles that are used to sit down in a chair. In addition, this exercise helps with balance. Stand straight against a wall and press your back into the wall. Slowly lower your body down until it is in a seated position. Hold the position briefly, then slowly stand up with your back against the wall. Complete 12 to 15 repetitions.
- Abdominal Crunches. Building strength in the core muscles will build overall strength. This abdominal crunch is a great abs builder. Lie down on the floor with your hands behind your neck or head. Press you spine down flat against the floor. Then raise your neck up off the floor by only one or two inches. Hold the position for several seconds, and then lower your body slowly. Exhale on the rise and inhale on the release.
- Half Squats. For many individuals with osteoarthritis, full squats can be too challenging. Half squats provide an excellent alternative for building knee and leg strength. Start in the straight stand up position. Then squat approximately half way between a seated position and a standing position. Keep your legs at 90-degree angles. For the most effect, do two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. This exercise will also improve your balance.
- Hamstring and Calf Stretches. Because osteoarthritis attacks the knees in such a high percentage, working on the flexibility of the legs and leg joints is important. All exercise routines should begin with stretching. To stretch your hamstrings, sit down on the floor. Put one leg out in front while bending the other let until your foot parallels the other knee. Stretch forward as much as possible. Switch sides and repeat.
- Arm Circles. This simple movement is very effective at strengthening arms and building arm muscles. This can be done with or without weights. Stretch your arms straight out from your sides. Then make small, quick circles for as long as possible. This exercise can be done easily at home, even in front of the TV.
A lot of these exercises can be helpful if you suffer from other rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to an exercise program, osteoarthritis sufferers may benefit from heat and cold therapy. This involves alternating heat and cold to the affected joints. However, the most effective therapy is encapsulated by the old saying, "move it or lose it." Osteoarthritis can create a cycle of not moving because it is painful, then the ability to move decreases. Movement creates its own relief from suffering.