Why Strengthening is Necessary to Reduce Pain from Knee Arthritis
by Dr. Troy Vander Molen, PT, DPT

One of our previous blog posts discussed knee arthritis and gave seven practical tips you can use to reduce pain and improve movement. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you click on the link above and read it. It could change your life.

This month I wanted to expound upon one of the recommendations for those of you with knee arthritis: strengthening.

When we view osteoarthritis as a “wear and tear” process, it doesn’t make sense that knee strengthening should help. After all, shouldn’t the exercises I do to strengthen my knee further add wear and tear to the joint? That argument only holds true if osteoarthritis is a wear and tear process, and we now know that this is simply not the case.

If fact, researchers have proven that thigh weakness is associated with a higher incidence of knee pain for women. Physician Howard Luks, M.D. is a strong proponent of thigh strengthening as a way to combat and prevent knee pain. In his blog post, he describes the complex chemical processes at play when a person has osteoarthritis. In particular he says this about how exercise reduces inflammation in our joints:

“IL-10 is one of your body’s anti-inflammatories. IL-10 concentration will increase with exercise. So exercise can decrease the inflammatory IL-6 while promoting the production of IL-10. This is but one of the 100s of processes that take place in our joints, but it is a clear example of how exercise might improve the environment within the knee and diminish the risk of arthritic progression.”

In addition to the anti-inflammatory benefits of knee exercise, there are many other benefits for stability and balance. Strengthening is believed to improve joint stability, which reduces shear forces in the knee, the forces that put stress on the articular cartilage and contribute to pain. In other words, the stronger your legs are, the better you are at decreasing the rate of the progression of arthritis.

The claim that exercise reduces the rate of progression in arthritis is also supported by another study that looked at long term outcome after knee meniscus surgery. These researchers found that after 10 years, those who maintained strong thigh muscles after meniscus surgery had less arthritic changes in the knee compared to those with weaker thigh muscles.

So, take it from us and from Dr. Luks who recommends thigh strengthening to prevent and manage knee arthritis because:

  • Thigh strength correlates with longevity and fewer chronic diseases.
  • Thigh strength improves how an arthritic knee feels. That means that the stronger your legs are the less of a chance that you may require a knee replacement.
  • Thigh strength is associated with a decreased risk of developing worsening arthritis after meniscus surgery.
  • Thigh strength has been shown to correlate with less painful knee arthritis.

If you want to talk to a physical therapist about your arthritic knee pain, contact us at 866-588-0230 and ask for our complementary free injury screen. Make it your new year’s resolution to become active, and you may reap the benefits of increased thigh strength by feeling and functioning better.