The Connection between Joint Health and Exercise: What You Need to Know

In a world of fitness inspiration Instagram accounts and ubiquitous online health advice, it can become hard to filter out the healthy behaviors from the unhealthy ones. Especially when someone suffers from osteoarthritis, with chronic pain at their joints, it can be daunting to imagine suddenly starting a power-lifting exercise regimen (to name just one current fitness trend). The real question that someone with arthritis wants to answer, after all, is not what’s trendy, but what will help their joints and what will harm them.

Which leads us to the question: can exercise that causes a lot of impact on the joints cause or worsen arthritis?

Causes of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition where the body’s reparative processes for joints cannot keep up with the destructive forces at play on the bones, ligaments, and cartilage. One of the factors for osteoarthritis, then, is simply genes. Many people who suffer from arthritis seem to come from families with an inclination toward the condition. Also, an individual could be born with unusually shaped joints which slightly misalign the bones and worsen the usual wear and tear that any joint experiences. Being overweight can also increase stress on the joints and worsen the effects of arthritis.

Another common cause of osteoarthritis is injury. Both because an injured joint may become slightly misaligned and because its stability is decreased (especially by injuries to ligaments such as the ACL in the knee), patients who undergo joint damage from injury are much more likely than other patients to develop arthritis several years down the road.

What Role Does Exercise Play?

It actually seems that in general exercise does not cause osteoarthritis, and that if a person with arthritis has a well-established exercise routine that works for them, they can continue practicing it without concern. Additionally, exercise can be quite beneficial in certain cases. First, by strengthening the muscles around the joint, it can help counteract the problems caused by a misalignment from genetic causes or injury. Second, by helping to improve body composition, it can relieve stress on the joints from excess bodyweight, poor posture, etc.

For the most part, therefore, exercise will not worsen and will almost certainly assist in improving joint health. There are a few exceptions to this, in cases where a patient already has well-developed arthritis in a major, weight-bearing joint. Exercise is still beneficial for such people, but they may want to consider low-impact exercise, since high-impact exercise (for example, running) can aggravate the symptoms of arthritis, if not outright worsen the condition.

In short, exercise of some kind is almost always beneficial for helping with orthopedic concerns. If you are experiencing joint pain and want some expert guidance on the right way to mange it, however, we always suggest consulting with a qualified orthopedist like Dr. Scott. Request an appointment today to get customized advice on the best way to manage your health and fitness while living with arthritis.