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Osteoarthritis Of The Knee | Does Exercise Really Help?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and the knee is one of its prime targets. Every year thousands of Australians are diagnosed with OA of the knee, with this number set to increase in the coming decades.

Some common factors that contribute to the development of osteoarthritis include:

  • Age

  • Weight

  • Joint injury

  • Overuse or repetitive movements

  • Musculoskeletal disorders or abnormalities

  • Genetics Environmental factors

Osteoarthritis is not simply 'wear and tear'

Before we talk about exercise and it's relationship with OA we need to dispel a common myth. Osteoarthritis is not simply 'wear and tear' of the cartilage, rather it is a condition of the entire joint including the muscles, bones, ligaments and nerves. There is a breakdown of the tissue, changes in the bone and inflammation of the joint resulting in arthritic symptoms such as pain and stiffness.

Did you know that the body is constantly remodelling itself? Throughout our lifespan old cells are constantly dying and new cells are taking their place. It is well known that bone requires movement, weight and stimulus to remodel itself effectively. In fact, if you take away movement the bone becomes weak and brittle. New research suggests that osteoarthritis can be thought of in a similar way, where the joint requires movement to stay healthy and strong.

That's not to say you should perform every activity under the sun. Instead you should choose activity and exercise that gives the joint the appropriate level of stimulus without causing an excessive flare-up.

Will I ever be completely pain free?

Appropriate exercise will strengthen the support structures of the knee and help the joint stay healthy. The chances are that this will reduce your pain levels and improve your ability to stay active. In saying this, many people will still have some residual pain in their knee. The goal of exercise is not to eradicate the pain completely, rather the goal is to improve your function and help you manage your symptoms.

Many experts now suggest a multimodal approach to treating arthritis, where multiple treatments are utilised at the same time. Some common treatments include:

  • Exercise to improve strength, range of motion and mobility

  • Medications (analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications)

  • Hot and cold therapies

  • Weight loss programs

  • Assistive devices

  • Activity modification

What if I've tried all the treatments available but to no avail?

If you have tried all the recommended treatments and your symptoms are still severe your doctor may suggest a surgical option, most commonly a knee replacement. The decision to get a knee replacement can be complex and difficult.

Most health professionals believe a knee replacement should be a last resort as the prosthesis will not last forever and any surgery carries it's own risks. In saying that many of my patients have had great success with their knee replacement surgery and now live a relatively pain free, active life.

How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are movement specialists. We learn about your diagnosis, symptoms and functional ability and provide a tailored treatment to help you manage your symptoms and return to the activities you love to do.

When it comes to osteoarthritis of the knee we can provide you with appropriate treatment to help build up the strength and range of motion in your knee. We will provide timely advice, educate you on the nature of your condition, help you manage your expectations and maximise your function. We may also perform manual therapy techniques to help manage your symptoms in the short term.

If you have any further questions or would like to see one of our mobile physiotherapists at home feel free to reach out. Stay At Home Physio would love to be a part of your recovery journey! Send us a message on or give us a call on 0491 920 660


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