Osteoarthritis: Myth Busters

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common conditions leading to pain and disability. There is a common misconception that OA is a natural result of aging, along with “wear and tear” from repetitive impact (exercise). Current research has shown that OA is much more complex and that several factors play a role in determining who is at risk for developing OA, without age or physical activity being the culprit.

Myth 1: Osteoarthritis is a direct result of aging

While age does play a factor in the development of OA, it doesn’t work alone. Other factors must play a role, since 50% of people between 45-75 do not develop OA. These may include; genetics, race, gender, abnormal joint biomechanics, muscle weakness, prior joint injury, etc.

Myth 2: High impact activities such as running will increase your risk for OA

Research has shown that more active individuals do NOT have an increased incidence of OA. Williams (2013) followed 90 000 participants over several years to determine if walking or running increases the risk of OA. He showed that walkers/runners had a significantly lower risk of developing hip and knee OA compared to their sedentary counterparts. Specifically, he found that runners were more likely to benefit from less OA compared to the walkers, and those who ran greater than 12.5km/week had the greatest benefit. He suggests that running has a protective effect against OA, due to these individuals having a lower BMI and since running may promote cartilage thickening, as well as prevent the loss of cartilage proteoglycans.

Myth 3: If you have OA, exercise will only make it worse

Contrary to popular belief, strengthening and aerobic exercise in the form of walking and cycling can reduce pain, improve function and reduce the progression of OA in patients with knee and hip OA. Be aware that this isn’t a period of short term exercise for long term gains; exercise needs to be made part of your daily regime and lifestyle. Patients who stopped exercising returned to their baseline levels of pain and decreased function.

Take Home Message

  • Exercise is not bad; normal loading of the joint is good!
  • OA is not a result of “wear and tear.”

If you have OA and are sedentary, and want to increase your activity, you should speak with a physiotherapist at Sheddon Physiotherapy to see what is right for you.

Williams (2013). Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 45(7):1292-1297.