Reducing Pain and Disability in Knee OA

Exercise therapy is effective for reducing pain and disability in knee osteoarthritis

The best type of exercise program is not yet defined

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful condition in which protective cartilage in the knee wears away over time, causing the bones to rub against each other and resulting in pain and difficulty with walking. Exercise therapy that is prescribed by a physical therapist has been found to be beneficial for reducing pain and disability in patients with knee OA. However, the best type of exercise program has not yet been defined. In particular, it is not known which type of exercises are most effective, how intense the exercises should be, and how long the program should last. To develop a better idea of how to design these types of programs, so patients with knee OA can experience the greatest benefits, a study analyzed all the available research on this topic to help make useful recommendations.

Study uses only powerful trials for analysis

Conductors of the study scanned numerous medical databases for relevant articles. In order to be used for the analysis, each study had to be a randomized-controlled trial (the most powerful type of study) that compared an exercise group to a non-exercise group in patients with OA in one or both knees. These trials also had to evaluate pain and disability in participants before and after the intervention. This search turned out 48 studies that observed 4,028 patients, which is considered a large sample size that can provide useful information on this topic. The results from all of these studies were pooled together and the most important findings were identified.

A single type of exercise is most effective for reducing pain and disability

The results from this analysis showed that most trials led to a positive effect by reducing pain and disability in patients. Overall, exercise therapy programs that focused on a single type of exercise were more effective than those that mixed several types of exercises together. In addition, it was found that the more sessions of exercise therapy a patient had, the greater the benefits of the program. These effects were noticed for most patients, regardless of factors like age, sex, weight or level of pain at the start of the intervention. The best types of exercises are those that focus on improving patients’ aerobic capacity and quadriceps (thigh) muscle strength or overall performance of the lower extremities (legs), and they should be performed three times a week for at least 12 sessions.

This all means that if you have knee OA, no matter your status, a physical therapist can develop a program that includes these rehabilitation components specifically for you. According to this research, if these exercises are carried out properly and regularly, you will eventually notice beneficial results reduced pain and disability, and the burden of knee OA will decrease over time.

-As reported in the December ’13 edition of Arthritis and Rheumatism