Does Intensity Matter in Knee Pain?

I have several patients who tell me they'd like to exercise but that "just aren't that intense" anymore. Lots of people today think that to exercise means that you have to get your heart rate into the 160s with sweat soaking your t-shirt, and it's just not the case. I tell my patients with knee pain that motion is generally good for joints. For patients with arthritis, exercise is often the best medicine you can ask for! That doesn't mean you have to go out tomorrow and start to run a mile, however.

As we've talked about in previous posts, the simple act of moving a joint increases blood flow to that joint, increasing the amount of joint fluid you produce, which in turn nourishes cartilage. Further, a joint that sustains a reasonable load, like body weight or a small multiple of that, on a regular basis is more likely to have thicker cartilage than the joint which is rarely given a load (by load, I mean weight or resistance of some kind).

Last year, researchers in Melbourne, Australia looked at low-intensity exercise regimens and the likelihood of arthritis pain worsening. As we know, arthritis is a progressive disease, and the tendency for arthritis to worsen over time is one of the biggest challenges we face in modern medicine. Interestingly, during this particular experiment, no fancy exercise workouts or ultra-scientific protocols were given to the participants. Instead, the participants formulated their own goals and plans regarding general health and wellness with physical activity being a key component. These participants then completed an exercise and eating program that was sensible and consistent and based upon the participants own health goals and aspirations.

In stark contrast to what the gurus would have you believe, the lifestyle interventions of a sensible eating program and regular, low-intensity exercise actually reduced the risk of arthritic knee pain progressing compared to a control group who did not undergo the low-intensity intervention. What does this mean for you and me? Essentially, we should strive to maintain a consistent regimen of exercise, even if it is low-intensity, for the protection of our knees against worsening arthritic pain. This research suggests that even low-intensity exercise and movement in general tends to be much better for arthritic joints than sedentary behavior.

Keep Moving!


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