Published: Dec. 5, 2003
Updated: July 2, 2008
From magnetic mattress pads to mysterious nutritional supplements, it sometimes seems as if dubious “cures” for the degenerative joint disease known as osteoporosis are nearly as numerous as the 16 million Americans who have it.
But according to Duke rheumatologist Virginia Kraus, MD, the very best remedy for the pain that accompanies joint movement in people with osteoarthritis is movement itself.
“It’s only fairly recently that researchers have reached agreement about the primacy of exercise in managing the effects of arthritis,” says Kraus. “However, when people have joint pain or obesity, it’s essential that exercises be done in a supervised setting.”
Kraus’s studies suggest that supervised exercises to ease arthritis pain are even more potent when they’re submerged--in water. “Patients weigh less in water, and the water offers less resistance and stress on the joints,” she says.
In addition, blood tests show that aquatic exercise actually increases the flow of nutrients to the cartilage within the joints, and promotes greater movement after the exercise sessions.
“We’ve studied aquatic exercise for several years, and now have a very user-friendly aquatic therapy program in place at the Center for Living,” says Kraus. “A physical therapist oversees the program, and patients receive customized exercise programs to meet their individual needs. These may include land-based exercises such as bicycling, walking, or stretching, that they can do in own homes or communities.”
For people with severe degenerative arthritis, surgical therapies--sometimes even including total joint replacement--can enormously improve quality of life, thanks to evolving technologies and techniques that help new or repaired joints work better and last longer.
Here, too, exercise plays a key role, says Kraus: “We see many surgery candidates who need to become more fit before their procedure, which will give them a better outcome. And after their post-surgical course of physical therapy is complete, they still need to incorporate a regular exercise program into their lives for best results.”
While appropriate use of analgesics can help ease the discomfort of osteoarthritis, Kraus sums up, “For people who stick with it, a controlled exercise program is as or more potent than any drug they can take.”