Exercise: Is it the cause or cure of Osteoarthritis pain?

Today, Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, EdgecliffMarrickvilleBella VistaRandwick, PymbleBalmain and Neutral Bay  look at the role of exercise in preventing and managing Osteoarthritis.


It is quite likely you or someone you know has osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic condition that affects 1 in 11 Australians. It is prevalent in joints in the body, most often the knees, hips, fingers and spine. But what does this mean? Well, in healthy joints, cartilage covers the surfaces of bones which form the joint. It acts as a protective layer of tissue that helps to absorb shock and allow smooth movement. In OA, this joint cartilage weakens and breaks down. This leaves the ends of the bone unprotected, causing them to rub together and makes the joint susceptible to pain, swelling and stiffness particularly during movement. Other common symptoms include crepitus (crackling sensation) and bony outgrowths around the joint.


As cartilage degeneration and thinning occurs gradually over time, it becomes more prevalent from the age of 45 and is the single most common cause of disability in older adults.


It is the predominant condition leading to knee and hip replacement surgery in Australia. The progressively declining nature of OA can cause pain and functional limitations which make it challenging to engage in physical activity and result in further losses of muscle strength. Factors that have been shown to increase your risk of OA include muscle weakness, low levels of physical activity, obesity, being of female gender, previous joint injury, and family history.


Why Exercise for OA?

You may have heard the terms “wear and tear” when talking about arthritis. Unfortunately, this terminology has mis-lead people to believe that exercise is harmful and causes further damage. In fact, the opposite is true.


Exercise is clinically recommended as the first-line conservative treatment for knee OA.


There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis and the condition is long term and progressive, as cartilage is not a tissue that repairs itself. Treatment aims to manage symptoms and maximise quality of life. Exercise is effective in managing OA as it strengthens the muscles around the joints and provides symptomatic relief by improving joint mobility (stiffness) and reducing pain and inflammation (swelling). Reducing bodyweight also helps to reduce the load placed on the joint.


There is a strong recommendation for land-based exercise, weight management and ongoing education for long term management of knee and hip OA.

Land-based exercise can be as effective in relieving symptoms as medications with fewer side effects.

Optional adjunctive strategies to land-based exercise that are recommended include pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, massage, cognitive behavioural therapy (for psychological symptoms), heat pads and aquatic exercise.


Types of exercise for OA

  • Strength
    • Apply resistance using bodyweight, resistance bands, free weights, or machines to target muscles of the thigh, hip, and calf. g. sit to stands, standing side leg raise and calf raises performing 3 rounds of 10 repetitions.
  • Aerobic
    • Avoid high impact exercise such as running, as this places high loads on the affected joint. E.g. walking or cycling.
  • Flexibility
    • Helps to improve the range of motion in affected joints because of arthritic changes and swelling. E.g. stretching.








Watch this short video for examples of resistance exercises you can do at home or in the gym to help increase strength for knee and hip OA.


Extra tips:

  • Start light and gradually build up to exercising five times a week for at least 30 minutes.
  • Complete at least a 10-minute warm up before each session
  • Some soreness after exercise is normal and does not mean you are doing more damage. If there is significant pain or swelling, your exercise may need to be modified. During these acute flare ups, gently move joints through their range of motion but avoid strenuous exercise
  • The benefits of exercise are lost if exercise is discontinued


All of our Exercise Physiologists are professionals at prescribing personalised exercise that best suits your health conditions, preferences, and goals.


If you have osteoarthritis or are experiencing joint pain, stiffness or swelling, Longevity Exercise Physiology and Personal Training can help. Enquire today on 1300964002 for more information or to book an initial consultation.


Written by Eleni Bradley 



Arthritis Australia. (2007). Arthritis Information Sheet Physical Activity and Exercise. Retrieved from https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/managing-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/physical-activity-and-exercise/

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/osteoarthritis

Bennell, K. L., & Hinman, R. S. (2011). A review of the clinical evidence for exercise in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Journal of science and medicine in sport14(1), 4–9. Doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2010.08.002

Fransen, M., McConnell, S., Harmer, A. R., Van der Esch, M., Simic, M., & Bennell, K. L. (2015). Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews1, CD004376. Doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004376.pub3

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. (2018). Guideline for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis. 2nd edn. Retrieved from: https://www.racgp.org.au/getattachment/71ab5b77-afdf-4b01-90c3-04f61a910be6/Guideline-for-the-management-of-knee-and-hip-osteoarthritis.aspx

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