Many of my patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA) have bought into the myth that physical activity will make knees feel worse. However, nothing could be further from the truth, with the right treatment plan. Regular physical activity has actually been shown to improve some arthritis symptoms and promote general health. So a round of golf with friends and family may be a good way to keep your knees working well.
Maintaining an active lifestyle can strengthen muscles, improve functionality and ease pain for people with knee OA. The American College of Rheumatology recommends physical activity for managing the condition. While it may seem counterintuitive to do something that hurts in order to ease the pain, walking, aerobics and strength training have all been shown to do just that.
In fact, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that exercise and physical therapy improved function in people with knee OA, and may have helped delay or prevent the need for surgery.
Researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently concurred with earlier studies, saying that even a small increase in physical activity helped people with knee OA walk faster. They also found that staying active reduced pain, depression and fatigue.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” way to treat knee OA. The unique nature of each individual’s condition usually requires the need for personal evaluation by a healthcare professional. That is why finding the right pain management regimen is an important part of helping patients get and stay active.
Treatments are tailored to each patient based on your individual needs. Options include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or, if pain is persistent, speak with your doctor about prescription treatments. Some of the latest advances in topical pain treatments include newer diclofenac applications, which can potentially offer significant gastrointestinal safety benefits for certain patients. Beginning in 2000, a doctor-prescribed diclofenac patch, gel, and topical solution were approved separately for use in the United States.
Early action is key, and exercise is an important tool in treating OA. Walking 18 holes is the equivalent of walking 10,000 steps, making golf just one sport that may prove beneficial for people with knee OA.
As with returning from any injury, it is important to stay motivated. Whatever activity you choose, I recommend my patients record their progress and encourage their own movement. One way to do this is through the Arthritis Foundation’s Movement Tracker. To find out more information visit www.arthritis.org.
Dr. Joseph Markenson is an attending physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Editor's note: The author acknowledges receiving honoraria from Covidien, the supplier of PENNSAID® (diclofenac sodium topical solution) 1.5% w/w, as a consultant and speaker.
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