Just as we often compare the brain to a computer’s CPU, we cannot ignore that the human body in itself is no less than a machine, which can rust if not put to work. This is why health experts cannot stress enough on the importance of exercise for physical health. Often, due to certain medical conditions or the pain we experience, we may avoid exercising, but doctors usually recommend otherwise.
A common medical condition where patients may be unsure if they should exercise is arthritis, which affects millions of people globally. This confusion is usually due to knee pain, which is a common by-product of the condition. Exercising with an arthritic knee may sound absurd, however, contrary to the common belief, regular exercise has actually been found to relieve not just the pain but also symptoms like swelling and stiffness.
Some of the reasons why one should exercise despite arthritis of knees are:
*Reduces symptoms of arthritis such as pain and stiffness.
*Strengthens the muscles and ligaments supporting the joint.
*Reduce stress on the joint and enhance strength as well as flexibility.
*Maintains full range of motion of the joints.
*Allows the patient to maintain a healthy weight and is good for the heart too.
*Relieves overall fatigue symptoms.
*Besides physical health, it’s also beneficial for mental health.
Exercises for knee arthritis
It is not enough to just exercise without being well-informed about the effect of those exercises as well as your condition. An arthritis patient’s doctor or physical therapist can best recommend some exercises, such as strengthening exercises, aerobic exercises, range-of-motion exercises, and other activities. Your doctor should fit exercising into your treatment plan based on the type of arthritis that you have and the joints that are involved.
Before beginning to exercise, understand what’s within your limits and what level of exercise is likely to give you results.
*Most of these exercises are easy, effective, and convenient and do not require any special equipment or place. They can be carried out at home or even in the office during a break. It is important to keep in mind that these exercises should be made a habit only slowly and gradually. The frequency or intensity should only be increased eventually as the muscles get stronger.
*Exercises like leg raise, hamstring stretch, half-squat, one-leg dip, leg stretch, etc, work well for the arthritis of knees.
*Walking is also an excellent form of exercise for knees as it has low-impact, it is a weight-bearing exercise, and it helps strengthen muscles as well as build bones. Just remember to wear good, sturdy shoes.
*Water exercises or walking in the shallow end of a pool also aid in muscle strength and knee flexibility.
*Swimming is an all-round exercise with no strain on the joints and also good for the heart and lungs.
The following exercise routine can be practiced daily to strengthen the muscles that stabilise and support the knee, and also to improve balance by training your brain to be aware of your leg’s position:
*Lie on your back with one leg bent at the knee.
*Extend your other leg and slowly trace out the letters of the alphabet in broad strokes.
*Switch legs and repeat the same.
*Do this with each leg three to five times, or until your muscles feel fatigued.
Some discomfort, pain and even a bit of soreness is likely to be experienced during exercising which is completely normal. But severe pain, swelling or stiffness is not advisable, which is why it is suggested to do exercises in consultation with your doctor. Start slow and increase gradually.
Pre and post exercise
About 20 minutes before you begin exercising, you can out a moist-heat pack on your knees. This will allow the blood to come to the surface, reduce stiffness and also soothe in case of pain.
If pain medications are included in your intake, try having these 45 minutes prior to exercising.
After you are done exercising, make sure you do some stretches to prevent the muscles from tightening. You can also put an ice pack on your sore knee after exercising for 10-15 minutes as this would bring down any swelling that may have been caused.
Before starting out with exercising your arthritic knee, some tips to be considered include
*Keep the impact low.
*Apply heat as it relaxes the joints and muscles and relieves any pain you have before you beginning.
*Remember to move the joints gently at first to warm up.
*Exercise with slow and easy movements.
*Apply ice to your joints as needed after activity.
*Don’t exert more energy than your joints can handle.
*Increase your exercise length and intensity slowly as you progress.
*In the case of sore muscles, exercise every other day.
*Do not overdo.
(Inputs: Dr. Roopa Tekkatte Consultant Rheumatologist, Aster RV Hospital.)