Benefits of Exercising With Osteoarthritis

IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE more than 30 million Americans who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have osteoarthritis – the degenerative wear and tear and most common form of arthritis – you might be reticent to exercise.

“Joint pain can accompany osteoarthritis, so people assume that movement will worsen the condition,” says Katrina Pilkington, a Nevada-based National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist.

However, lack of exercise can actually increase joint stress and degeneration. Meanwhile, regular exercise can not only ease symptoms, but actually slow progression of the joint disease, according to a 2018 review published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation.

Here are five science-backed ways that exercise improves the symptoms and progression of osteoarthritis:

  • Lubricating joints.
  • Replacing damaged cells with new, healthy ones.
  • Strengthening muscles.
  • Reducing excess body weight.
  • Relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Learn more about the benefits of exercising with osteoarthritis.

Lubricating Joints

A soft tissue called synovial membrane surrounds your joints and produces a fluid that acts like gear oil for your joints. This synovial fluid reduces friction to prevent further damage to the cartilage and bone – and exercise stimulates its production, Pilkington explains. Plus, by increasing the flow of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the synovial membrane, your joints are able to stay lubricated both during and between your workouts.

Synovial fluid also prevents the collection of inflammatory proteins within joints that can lead to osteoarthritis’ trademark pain, says physical therapist William Behrns, a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Replacing Damaged Cells With New, Healthy Ones

In osteoarthritis, cartilage wears down, degrades and stops cushioning the joints. However, a 2019 animal study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine suggests that exercise stimulates cartilage autophagy, the process by which the body clears out and recycles old, damaged cells so that new ones can take their place.

Joint movement during exercise may also activate genes associated with cartilage rebuilding, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Strengthening Muscles

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a bodybuilder, when it comes to managing osteoarthritis, there’s good reason to pick up some weights, says Chris Kolba, Ph.D., a physical therapist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Your muscles are in charge of both bracing the joints as well as absorbing shock when you walk, jog or do anything that involves impact.

“The stronger your muscles are, the more protected your joints will be,” Behrns says. That’s especially true of the knees and hip joints, which constantly support the weight of your entire body.

Reducing Body Weight

Maintaining a healthy body weight is important to making sure that those knees and hips aren’t under any excess stress.

“Joint stresses are directly related to the amount of weight placed on the joint during an activity,” Behrns says. “The less you weigh, the less joint stresses will exist.” He explains that every pound lost results in a four-fold decrease in stress placed on the knee.

If you’re already at a healthy body weight, you’re already enjoying this benefit and losing more weight is not advised.

Relieving Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

One in five adults with arthritis suffers from anxiety, while depression symptoms occur twice as often in people with arthritis than in those without the disease, according to a 2018 analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pain, mobility limitations and side effects from pain and anti-inflammatory medications are leading reasons for an increase in depression and anxiety in men and women with arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Exercise is an established method for treating mood disturbances and mental health disorders, and a 2003 analysis published in Exercise and Sport Science Reviews concluded that, “in osteoarthritis, the psychosocial benefits of exercise are as important as physiological improvements.”


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.