If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, should you still exercise? The simplest answer is yes—osteoarthritis is no excuse to skip exercise—but things aren’t always simple and there are some caveats.
Osteoarthritis can be painful and even debilitating, but exercise is important for overall health and wellbeing—arthritis or not. In fact, exercise can be an important factor in preventing the progression of osteoarthritis. By strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints, you can decrease the force on the joints—thereby decreasing pain and arthritis progression. What’s more, light exercise may even prevent cartilage destruction.
If you are experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis, exercise might not sound all that appealing, but don’t write it off altogether. Instead, make some adjustments:
- Low-impact: Ditch high-impact activities like running and instead opt for low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, or swimming. You might even find that you enjoy the elliptical machine or the Nordic track machine, both great low-impact options at the gym.
- Strike a Balance: If your osteoarthritis symptoms are mild, you might be tempted to push through the pain and continue with high-impact activities. This is not advised—but if you must continue with these activities, at least strike a balance and reduce the frequency. Mix it up—choose high-impact one day per week and low-impact on the other days.
- Embrace the Pool: Swimming significantly reduces the stress on all joints. If you’re suffering from joint pain, the pool could be your best option for staying fit.
The bottom line: stay as active as you can, but pay attention to the progression of your osteoarthritis symptoms. When your arthritis becomes so severe that any type of exercise is difficult, it might be time to consider joint replacement surgery to restore quality of life.
 Hovis K, Stehling C, Pialat JB, et al: Association of Exercise, Strength Training, and Knee-bending Activities with Knee Cartilage T2 Values and WORMS Using 3 T MRI in Asymptomatic Subjects with and without Osteoarthritis Risk Factors. RSNA 2010 Annual Meeting. Abstract LL-MKS-MO2B.