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Knee Exercise for Osteoarthritis

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Total joint replacement surgery for severe knee osteoarthritis is one of the most cost-effective operations available in high-income countries. For one thing, it can help people regain their mobility, so they’re able to engage in regular physical activity. This in turn can help maintain overall health in numerous different ways, from reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke to managing blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes.

But knee replacement is a last-ditch treatment. Even with the advances that now allow many patients to return home a day or so after surgery, it’s still a major operation. 

Thankfully, we now have good evidence that there is a way for many people with knee osteoarthritis to stave off the need for surgery. 

It’s not sexy. But it works. 

Over time, regular exercise can improve pain and range of motion enough that surgery no longer looks like an attractive option. And it also helps keep the cartilage in the knee as healthy as possible. (Cartilage is the tough, slippery tissue that allows the bones in the joint to glide smoothly against each another.) 

In Good Times magazine’s Health on the Record column, I wrote about a Nordic study that looked at the effects of performing a single exercise every day, adjusting the level of resistance to maintain the same level of effort or difficulty as muscle strength improved. 

What I didn’t do was describe the study or the exercise itself in detail, because health news items need to be brief.

Well, apparently quite a few people would like to try and avoid knee replacement surgery if possible.

Several readers contacted the magazine, wanting to know more. I’m told this single news item generated far more mail than any other story or topic the publication has covered in recent memory.

Consequently, for the ‘Your Health Questions’ column in Good Times’ February/March 2023, I provided more background on that particular study. 

I also wrote about another exercise and education program that has been shown over and over again to improve symptoms enough that most participants opted against immediate surgery. It’s called GLA:D—for Good Living with Arthritis: Denmark (where the program originated). 

To learn more, check out the column: ‘Knee Exercise for Osteoarthritis’. 

If you’re still hungry for more details, you can find the original study here, and a video demonstrating the exercise used in the QUADX-1 Trial here. You can also find the original GLA:D study here.

My heartfelt thanks to John Roberts, a physiotherapist at the University of Calgary’s Sport Medicine Centre who is also a GLA:D Canada instructor. 

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema Courtesy of Unsplash