MYTH BUSTED: Exercise is good for people with knee osteoarthritis (OA)
MYTH: EXERCISE WILL CAUSE MORE DAMAGE TO YOUR JOINTS AND CARTILAGE
Unfortunately, rest, ice and pain medication (e.g. Panadol Osteo) is commonly prescribed to people with knee and other joint pains. This advice is often wrong and harmful in the long run and can lead to increased pain, joint stiffness, increased swelling and muscle weakness.
Your joints need movement to stimulate healing, increase flexibility and helps maintain strength. There is a ton of research evidence which suggests that regular exercise is safe, improves pain and helps maintain healthy tissues.
If you have been told not to exercise by your GP/health practitioner, it may be best to seek a second opinion.
What about the degeneration and cartilage damage seen on my scans?
It may be true that your joint is showing degeneration and damage on MRI or Xray, however it is important to know that pain is poorly correlated to the scan results. In fact, it is not uncommon to find degenerative changes or "arthritis" in people who are completely symptom free.
There are many contributing factors as to why you may be experiencing pain and it may be more simple than you think. Factors such as muscle weakness, poor biomechanics and tissue overload are amongst the most common.
But I tried to exercise and ended up aggravating my pain!
That's great that you have tried to maintain an active lifestyle. You are definitely on the right track. There a two main reason why you may have felt more pain during or after exercise.
1. Too much too soon
When you develop pain anywhere in your body, it is likely that the muscles have become tight, weak and generally de-conditioned. These negative changes tend to develop as a result of compensation, reduced physical activity and muscle guarding. It is always best intro exercise to the affected body part gradually and with less load.
2. Fear and The Nocebo effect
Accurate education about the importance of exercise and increasing confidence is essential for long term improvement. Pain is actually our brain's way of warning us of threat - both real and perceived. The biggest issue we see in people with longstanding pain, is that non physical factors such as fear, stress, anxiety, poor sleep, poor nutrition and patient expectations all contribute to pain. Modern neuroscience is helping us better understand how these other factors influence and up-regulate our pain response.
If you were told by your Doctor/health professional that your joint was damaged and "worn out", you would become reluctant to exercise and start to worry about causing additional "wear and tear". When you feel pain, you naturally assume that you are causing more "damage" to your body. This means that simple exercise such as getting up from a chair and walking can be deemed as dangerous and threatening in your mind.
The good news is that with our increased understanding of the factors and how they affect your pain and function, we can provide safe and sustainable guidance for you to exercise without fear and pain completely disabling you.