Keeping the Orthopedist Away: Simple Tips to Self-Treat Knee Arthritis

Some individuals are hesitant to exercise if their knee is arthritic, fearing that exercise will increase the knee pain in their knee joint which is already sore, causing more damage to the knee.  As an orthopedic surgeon, I am often treating knee injuries sustained from athletic injuries or as a consequence of sustained high impact exercise.  While it is true that the wrong type of exercise can result in arthritis, it is equally true that the correct type of exercise is an excellent treatment for arthritic knee pain.

When considering exercise as a treatment for knee pain, it is best to consider what happens to your knee if you do not exercise. Pain in your joints makes you want to hold them very still as moving can be painful.  However, immobilizing your joint or not using it will over time cause the joint ligaments and muscle to lose range of motion and weaken.  Muscles will shorten and tighten up causing you to feel more pain and stiffness and be less able to do the things you like to do.  Lack of exercise causes the inevitable increase in body weight.  Even carrying an extra 10 pounds will cause extra wear on the knee joint over several years.

Low impact exercises are best for an arthritic knee.  Many runners are often discouraged when they begin to have discomfort with a run that a few years ago they could complete without any knee symptoms.  Cycling is a great alternative for runners, with its repetitive yet low impact stresses help improve nutrition to the arthritic knee cartilage and help boost the body’s circulation. Other excellent alternatives to running include Tai Chi and Yoga or going back to the gym. Hamstring curls and knee extensions done with low weights and high repetition will result in strength being built around the knee, cushioning the joint from further damage.  Muscle strength around the knee is like having a better shock absorber on your car.  The better the shock absorber on your car, the less you feel the bumps on the road of life.  All these low impact exercises have been shown to prompt the body to produce endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers.  Endorphins are the body’s way of producing a natural anti-inflammatory drug much akin to ibuprofen without any of the negative side effects.

As you can see, to an orthopedist, the right type of exercise is not a detriment to our patient’s knees but a useful adjunctive treatment.  Even if you have an arthritic knee, I would encourage all patients to find the type of exercise that they find most enjoyable to their lifestyle.

Dr. Frank Moussa Board Certified, Fellowship Trained, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine . He can be reached at (602) 466-7581.

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