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Exercise for osteoarthritis

It’s very important to keep your joints moving. You’ll need to find the right balance between rest and exercise – too much activity may increase your pain but too little can make your joints stiffen up. Little and often is usually the best approach.

There are two main types of exercise that you’ll need to do:

  • strengthening
  • aerobic.

Strengthening exercises for osteoarthritis

Strengthening exercises will improve the strength and tone of the muscles that control your joint. This will help to protect your joint and make it more stable. It’s also been shown to reduce pain.

Thigh (quadriceps) exercises will help to stop your knee giving way if you have osteoarthritis of the knee, reducing the chances of stumbling or falling.

Because knee and hip osteoarthritis may come to affect both sides of your body, and because both legs work as a unit when you walk, it’s helpful to:

  • do strengthening exercises on both legs
  • do hip exercises if you have knee osteoarthritis (and vice versa).

Aerobic exercises for osteoarthritis

Aerobic exercise is any exercise that increases your pulse rate and makes you a bit short of breath (for example a brisk walk, swimming or using an exercise bike). The benefits of regular aerobic exercise can include:

  • better sleep
  • better general health and well-being
  • reduced pain (exercise raises the levels of pain-relieving hormones called endorphins).

physiotherapist can advise on the best exercises for you, but you’ll need to do them every day to get the most from them. You can also talk to your GP about the Exercise on Prescription scheme that’s available in some areas.

Swimming can be very good for osteoarthritis. Because the water supports the weight of your body, you won’t be putting a lot of strain on your joints. Your physiotherapist may also recommend hydrotherapy, which is special exercise done in a warm water pool.

T’ai chi has also been shown to be helpful at reducing the pain from osteoarthritis. Many people find that regular t’ai chi also makes them feel better in other ways, for example, less stressed during the day and better able to sleep at night.


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