Osteoarthritis of the knee is a crippling condition, preventing the usual activities of walking, exercise and often resting without pain. The construction of an individualized exercise program featuring muscle strengthening, balance and flexibility can do much to improve function in this condition, and should be incorporated into the treatment plan for patients with OA. In this discussion, I will focus on the components of an exercise program for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Of note, this discussion will not address pharmacologic or surgical intervention, both of which are equally as important, but will remain topics for another day.
Much has been written about the cardiovascular benefits of routine exercise (weight reduction, modifications of lipid profile, improvements in coronary arterial blood flow), and these benefits are particularly important for patients with osteoarthritis, as excess weight-bearing directly impacts upon the hips, knees and feet. A 'one size fits all' approach to exercise does not serve patients well, as variations in weight, pain tolerance and aerobic capacity require an individualized program. Muscle strengthening does, however, fit the plan for almost everyone, particularly as increased hamstring strength and quadriceps bulk can help to decrease the force of a weight-bearing load across the knee joint.