A systematic review of previous trials has concluded that therapeutic exercise reduces pain and improves joint function for people with knee osteoarthritis (OA).
Researchers looked five electronic databases to find randomised clinical trials comparing some form of land-based therapeutic exercise with a non-exercise control.
Pooled results from 44 trials indicated that exercise significantly reduced pain and moderately improved physical function of the knee immediately after treatment. Some studies also found that general quality of life improved after treatment.
Follow-up data from 12 studies showed that knee pain was still reduced for two to six months, and ten studies showed improved physical function, the researchers report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“Among people with knee osteoarthritis, land-based therapeutic exercise provides short-term benefit that is sustained for at least two to six months after cessation of formal treatment,” the team concluded.
Dr. Martin Van der Esch, co-author of the review, told Reuters Health that although exercising a painful joint may seem counter-intuitive, it can help build muscle strength. This makes the knee more stable, leading to less wear and tear.
“Avoiding activities because of pain leads you to lose more muscle strength and have muscle weakness and unstable joints, so more wear and tear,” Van der Esch said.
In fact, some recent studies suggest that exercise could be as effective as medication for pain relief, and exercise has no pharmaceutical side effects, he pointed out.
Although the review did not find specific exercises that are best for knee OA patients, land-based exercise is more beneficial than water-based exercise, Van der Esch noted. That´s because land-based, weight-bearing exercise puts a load directly on the knee itself.