Exercise is Highly Effective in Healing Osteoarthritis

by Pankaj Kotak, M.Sc., N.D.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic degenerative disease of the joints in which the cartilage that covers the joint degenerates, allowing the bones to rub together. It results in pain and inflammation in the joint. If you stop moving, OA will progress rapidly. Exercise keeps the joints healthy and helps in healing OA.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects weight bearing joints such as the knees and hips; it can also affect fingers, neck, lower back and certain joints in the feet.

Main symptoms of Osteoarthritis are:

  • Pain, which is the hallmark of OA.
  • Stiffness of joints, often upon rising in the morning. "Locking up" of joints after long periods of inactivity is quite common.
  • Reduced range of motion in the joints.
  • Joint crackling sound is often heard due to rough or fragmented ligament.
  • Joint deformity and inflammation or enlargement happens as the disease progresses into advanced stages.

Following are some of the major causes of Osteoarthritis:

  • Excess weight. A heavy body puts excess stress and strain on the joints causing deterioration.
  • Trauma and injury to the joint or the surrounding areas.
  • Autoimmunity in which the immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues.
  • Lack of exercise leads to atrophy in which unused muscles and bones are wasted away, making the joints weaker.
  • Nutritionally poor diet makes the joints and muscles weak due to a lack of nutrients and increased free radical attack, which destroys healthy cells.

A common misconception about OA is that it is caused by wear and tear of the body due to strenuous activity or exercise. Increasing numbers of scientific studies are finding that the opposite is true. Regular exercise helps in reducing pain and improving joint health (1) which improves functional ability.

Joints contain synovial lining which secretes synovial fluid to lubricate and nourish the cartilage which protects and allows for smooth movement of the joint. Exercise causes the synovial fluid to flow in and out of the cartilage, improving its health. Movement also strengthens the various supporting structures such as muscles, ligaments and tendons; which increases the flexibility, range of motion and shock absorption.

The following exercises help in speeding up the recovery and prevention of OA:

  • Walking
  • Bicycling
  • Water Exercises (2)
  • Wight Lifting (3)
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi


  1. Thomas KS., and others. Home based exercise programme for knee pain and knee osteoarthritis: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2002;325:752.
  2. McNeal RL. Aquatic therapy for patients with rheumatic disease. Rheum Diseases Clinics of North America. 1990 Nov;16(4):915-29.
  3. Topp R., and others. The effect of dynamic versus isometric resistance training on pain and functioning among adults with osteoarthritis of the knee. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2002;83(9):1187-1195.

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