Exercise Is Essential for Severe Knee Osteoarthritis

Health Writer
Medically Reviewed

Regular exercise can reduce pain, stiffness, and pain-related disability from knee osteoarthritis, even if joint degeneration is severe.

In a small study, published in March 2016 in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers divided 43 older adults with severe knee osteoarthritis into two groups: 20 who received supervised physical exercise, and 23 who received conventional clinical care. All participants had severe knee osteoarthritis with moderate to large osteophytes (a bony outgrowth associated with the degeneration of cartilage at joints). and definite to severe joint space narrowing or bony sclerosis showing on radiographic imaging.

The exercise group participated in supervised cycling or other land-based aerobics, stretching, muscle strengthening, or water-based exercise for 90 to 120 minutes, one to three times per week, and received personalized instructions for adaptations as required.

The conventional care group received exercise instructions for use at home, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hyaluronic acid injections at clinic appointments once or twice a month.

Participants in both groups filled out surveys at the start of the study and one year later to evaluate their knee pain and pain-related disabilities.

After one year, only the participants in the supervised exercise group showed a significant improvement in scores for pain-related disabilities and knee pain and stiffness in daily life.

It’s important to keep your knees moving, even if your OA is severe. Consult with a physical therapist to learn exercise modifications to minimize your pain.