Exercise to beat knee pain

By Dr. Kaleel Cassim

Women with strong thigh muscles may be less likely to develop pain and stiffness associated with knee osteoarthritis, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the US said that the presence or absence of strong thigh muscles does not predict the actual occurrence of knee osteoarthritis, as shown by X-ray images.

However, it does appear to be associated with the development of symptoms, including the level of pain and the degree of stiffness. The researchers found that women with the strongest thigh muscles tended to be less likely to develop symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, while men with the strongest muscles also had a slightly higher chance of not developing symptoms.

Publishing their findings in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, the scientists wrote: “These findings suggest that targeted interventions to reduce risk for symptomatic knee osteoarthritis could be directed toward increasing knee extensor strength.”

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign concurred with the findings:

“Studies have shown time and again that actively seeking to improve your thigh muscle strength can make a significant difference to improving osteoarthritis of the knee, whilst a combination of both exercise and weight loss is most effective for people who are overweight.”

Researchers at the Arthritis Research Campaign National Primary Care Centre are working on strategies to improve both the quality of exercise interventions for people with knee pain and ways to help ensure individuals are supported to adhere to exercise programmes over the longer term.

The quadriceps muscles become weaker in everyone with arthritis in the knees, because the normal nerve supply to the muscles is reduced.

To overcome this it is essential to carry out quadriceps muscle exercises as often as possible. It has been proved that strengthening these muscles not only improves your mobility but also reduces pain.

Quadriceps (thigh muscle) exercises

The most important thing is to choose exercises which you can do regularly. The easiest one to do is when sitting down in a chair (see fig. 1-3)

1. Straight-leg raise: sitting: Get into the habit of doing this every time you sit down. Sit well back in the chair with a good posture.

Straighten and raise the leg, hold it for a slow count to 10, then slowly lower it. Repeat this several times with each leg – at least 10 times with each.

If this can be done easily, repeat the exercises with a weight on the ankle (buy ankle weights from a sports shop or improvise, for example with a tin of peas in a carrier bag wrapped around the ankle).

2. Straight-leg raise: lying down: Get into the habit of doing straight-leg exercises in the morning and at night while lying in bed.

With one leg bent at the knee, hold the other leg straight and lift the foot just off the bed. Hold for a slow count of 5 then lower. Repeat with each leg 5 times every morning and evening.

3. Muscle stretch: At least once a day when lying down, do the following exercise. First, place a rolled-up towel under the ankle of the leg to be exercised. Then bend the other leg at the knee.

With the straight leg, use your leg muscles to push the back of the knee firmly towards the bed or the floor.

Hold for a slow count of 5. Repeat with each leg 5 times.

Not only does this exercise help to strengthen the quadriceps muscles, but also it prevents the knee from becoming permanently bent.

4. Clenching exercises: During the day, whether standing or sitting, get into the habit of clenching and releasing the quadriceps muscles. By constantly stimulating the muscles, they become stronger

(The writer is a Consultant Rheumatologist)

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