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Therapeutic Exercise Reduces Pain and Improves Function for Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease of the joints. It is caused by wearing down and repair that occurs through our lifetime. It is more common as we age and can be debilitating. Weak muscles and poor joint alignment can worsen the condition. There is no cure for OA, but regular physical activity can help address muscle and joint roles.

The Cochrane Library collected several studies about exercise benefits for osteoarthritis. The review found that exercise can help decrease pain and increase functionality in people with OA. A second review, published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism Journal , gathered information specifically about strength training, and found similar results.

About the Study

The Cochrane review followed 32 randomized trials that compared general non-water therapeutic exercise. An exercise group was compared to a non-exercise group. Both had osteoarthritis in the knee. There were 3,616 participants evaluated for knee pain and 3,719 participants evaluated for self-reported physical function. Compared to the non-exercise group, the exercise group reported better rates of pain reduction and higher rates of improved function.

The second review focused on strength training for OA. Researchers at the University of Sydney reviewed 18 randomized trials that evaluated the effect of strength training on pain and function in participants with knee osteoarthritis. The review had a total of 2,832 participants. Results were self-reported or measured. In general:

  • 50%-75% of the studies reported improved pain and physical function in strength training groups
  • 50%-100% of the studies had a significant improvement in the performance-based physical function measure (walk time)

How Does This Affect You?

Both of these studies only reviewed short-term benefits of exercise for OA. They also did not focus on specific time and amounts of exercise. However, the results are promising in providing benefits for people with knee osteoarthritis.

Exercise is already known to provide heart and general health benefits and these studies indicate an additional benefit for people with OA. Talk to your doctor about a complete program for managing OA. Ask your doctor about exercise recommendations or a referral to an exercise specialist.




  • Lange AK, Vanwanseele B, Fiatarone Singh MA. Strength training for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a systematic review. Arthritis Rheum . 2008 Oct 15;59(10):1488-94.

Last reviewed November 2008 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

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