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Sore Knees from Osteoarthritis? Engaging In Exercise Can Bring Pain Relief and Improve Balance

The Bottom Line:

  • Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis and causes pain, tenderness, and stiffness.

  • People with knee osteoarthritis may also have impaired balance and flexibility, putting them at greater risk of falling.

  • Evidence shows that some forms of exercise can reduce pain and improve balance and physical function. Ideally, exercises are performed under supervision and at least three times a week.


As we age there’s a tendency to become less physically active for a number of reasons, not the least of which is-it hurts! Arthritis continues to be a painful problem for many older adults and the most common form-osteoarthritis-is particularly troublesome.  This condition occurs when the cartilage in joints wears down.  Without the cushioning cartilage provides, our joints-particularly our knees-can become damaged resulting in pain, stiffness, tenderness and a loss of flexibility and balance.  Serious injuries resulting from falls are prevalent in older adults and are reported to be on the rise (1) and there is evidence that gait (a person’s manner of walking) and balance problems associated with knee osteoarthritis further increase the risk of falling (2).


What’s the remedy?


Pain relivers and anti-inflammatory drugs are widely used but a proven treatment for knee osteoarthritis is actually exercise. (3,4) Physiotherapy and various forms of exercise have long been thought to benefit people suffering from osteoarthritis by helping to ease pain, reduce disability, increase confidence, improve mental health, and increase strength, flexibility, and balance (3,4,5). However, pinpointing which exercises are most appropriate and effective and designing optimal exercise programs have proven to be challenging. 


What the research tells us


Exercise can help reduce pain and disability in people with osteoarthritis. Three categories of exercise appear to be equally effective, namely aerobic, resistance, and performance. However the evidence suggests that focusing on just one type (versus mixing it up) may provide the best result. Ideally, exercises should be supervised and performed at least three times a week (6).


These research results are backed up by evidence from two newer systematic reviews. The first review aimed to determine whether exercise helps older adults with knee osteoarthritis improve balance and in turn, reduce their risk of falls. Once again participants (close to 1,500) engaged in various types of physical activity including aerobic exercise, strength training and tai chi. All were found to contribute to at least "medium improvement" in terms of enhancing balance and protecting against falls (7).


Meanwhile, the second review found that not only can exercise improve pain in people with chronic hip, knee, or hip and knee osteoarthritis, it can improve physical function as well (5). It's another strong argument for making regular exercise part of your lifestyle to help avoid pain, fall and injury.


If you're experiencing knee pain and other problems, don't assume your exercising days are behind you. Consult with your doctor and/or a physiotherapist to find out how you can ease your symptoms with an exercise program that's right for you.


Get in touch with a Physiotherapist at Leading Edge Physiotherapy Centre Inc. to schedule a consultation today!

Find us at:

31 Mcbrine Drive-Suite 7

Kitchener, On, N2R 1J1


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1. Alamgir H, Muazzam 5, Nasrullah M. Unintentional falls mortality among elderly in the United States: time for action. Injury. 2012; 43:2065-2071.

2. Ng CT, Tan MP. Osteoarthritis and falls in the older person. Age Ageing. 2013; 42:561-566.

3. Jansen M), Viechtbauer W, Lenssen AF et al. Strength training alone, exercise therapy alone, and exercise therapy with passive manual mobilisation each reduce pain and disability ni people with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. /Physiother. 2011; 57:11-20.

4. Iwamoto J, Sato Y, Takeda T, et al. Effectiveness of exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee: a review of the literature. World J Orthop 2011; 2:3742.

5. Hurley M, Dickson K, Hallett R, et al. Exercise interventions and patient beliefs for people with hip, knee or hip and knee osteoarthritis: A mixed methods review ( Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018; 4:CD010842. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010842.pub2.

6. Juhl C, Christensen R, Roos EM et al. Impact of exercise type and dose on pain and disability in knee osteoarthritis: systematic review and network meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials. ( Arthritis Rheumatol. 2014; 66:622-636.

7. Mat S, Tan MP, Kamaruzzaman SB et al. Physical therapies for improving balance and reducing falls risk in osteoarthritis of the knee: a systematic review.

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