Keeping Active With Knee OA Without Surgery, Injections Or Painkillers
Osteoarthritis of the knee is a very common diagnosis. However, despite the diagnosis and occasional painful periods, majority of people are able to continue to be active and lead normal life.Osteoarthritis is not a disease. I compare it to the wrinkles on your face as you get older – we also get wrinkle (read ‘age related changes’) on the inside. And it really depends how your body is able to deal with them, whether you head down the painful and dysfunctional path or you stay cruising and active for many, many more years.
You’ve heard the awful phrases that describe X-ray findings: such as ‘bone-on-bone’ ‘bone spurs’, ‘degeneration’, ‘wearing away’, and list goes on. Yes, they are scary, but if you know and understand what they mean, you will be able to conquer the pain, stay independent, and get back to what you love.
Exercise is the best medicine for any osteoarthritic joint. But exercising a joint that you’ve been told is wearing out may seem counterintuitive. Exercise is essential if your goal is to avoid surgery and costly procedures as long as possible. Being active will not cause your arthritis to worsen. Not all pain implies harm. In fact, there more and more studies that support the fact that running, strength training and general activity is superior to medications, surgery and costly medical procedures.
So – you may ask – why do my knees ache when I try to exercise? And what can I do about it? Many times, the pain resulting from exercise is due to too much load too soon and without adequate preparation. We cannot workout the same way as when we were 20 when we are pushing 50, 60, 70.. The body adapts to the demands that you place on it, but the progression needs to be gradual. And here is where we make the biggest mistake. Yes, you may be going through a period of pain, and your physical therapist has many tools to get that improved – but you have to think about the whole picture. It is the strength and general conditioning that will maintain the level of activity that you desire.
The usual answer to getting back to running is:
- Decrease the pain to tolerable levels (this may include heat, physical therapy, massage, some medications, bracing).
- Start strength training as soon as tolerable – your physical therapist will guide you through this. Some level of pain is OK. As you get stronger, your body will adapt and the pain decreases so you can get even stronger.. get it?
- Your physical therapist will advise you on footwear (which by the way needs to fit YOU and YOUR needs.. there is no such thing as one perfect shoe for everybody).
- Your physical therapist will take you through the progression to running. This is very individual; some people will need to temporary change running mechanics, surface tempo, cadence.. one plan does not work for everybody.
- And lastly – you WILL get back to running! Maintenance of strength, mobility and conditioning is the key to many more years you being fit!
Do you want to learn more? Please contact us, we would be happy to answer all of your questions.
Helping recreational and elite Alaskan runners of all ages to return to running safely, effectively and pain-free …for life.
By Zuzana Rogers, PT, ScD, SCS, COMT
Specialist Running Physiotherapist