Is There A Link Between Exercise and Arthritis?

knee pain jointAccording to a study being presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, “Middle-aged men and women who engage in high levels of physical activity may be unknowingly causing damage to their knees and increasing their risk for osteoarthritis”.

“Our data suggest that people with higher physical activity levels may be at greater risk for developing knee abnormalities and, thus, at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis.”

And in case you didn’t know…Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects approximately 10% of the American population.

The Study

The study involved 236 asymptomatic participants who had not reported previous knee pain – (136 women and 100 men, age 45 to 55, all within a healthy weight range.)

The participants were separated into low-, middle-, and high-activity groups based on their responses to the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE) questionnaire. PASE is a standard test that scores an older individual’s physical activity level, based on the type of activity and the time spent doing it.

Then came the MRIs.

Radiologists scanned the knees of the test subjects and compared their findings to the levels of physical activity as determined by the PASE questionnaire.

Sadly, the MRI analysis indicated a relationship between physical activity levels and frequency and severity of knee damage.

tiger woods knee

The Details

Specific knee abnormalities identified included meniscal lesions, cartilage lesions, bone marrow edema and ligament lesions. Abnormalities were associated solely with activity levels and were not age or gender specific.

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  • The prevalence of the knee abnormalities increased with the level of physical activity.
  • In addition, cartilage defects diagnosed in active people were more severe.
  • The findings also indicated that some activities carry a greater risk of knee damage over time.

“This study and previous studies by our group suggest that high-impact, weight-bearing physical activity, such as running and jumping, may be worse for cartilage health.”

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“Conversely, low-impact activities, such as swimming and cycling, may protect diseased cartilage and prevent healthy cartilage from developing disease.”

Their Conclusion

The researchers concluded that there is a need for prospective studies to evaluate the influence of low-impact versus high-impact physical activity on disease progression.

My Conclusion(s)

  • Our bodies wear down with use. This should not come as a surprise to anyone 40+ years of age. Odds are there are lots of things that you can’t do that you could do in your teens or twenties. (see Viagra)
  • With age comes wisdom. Or at least it’s supposed to. As a kid, I never included a warm-up into my workout. Nothing hurt, so why would I warm-up? Today, if I skip the warm-up, things hurt.
  • Additionally, since I have become a slightly-older, slightly wiser version of myself, I have eliminated or modified the types of exercise that cause me pain – long distance running, 1 leg pistol squats, football, various weightlifting exercises, high intensity plyometric jumps, etc…

And with these modifications, I eliminated the nagging knee & shoulder pains that had begun to crop up.

My Other Conclusion(s)

  • No exercise is perfect for every person. Swimmers often suffer with shoulder pain. Cyclists often develop muscle imbalances due to their posture while cycling. Yoginis suffer joint injuries.
  • The body you have today is different from the body you had 20 years ago. Treat it as such.
  • Your body is different from my body. What works for me might not work as well for you.
  • Your body will tell you what is best for it. If your knees swell up after going for a long jog…maybe you shouldn’t go for a long jog. If your shoulders hurt after a set of overhead presses, maybe you should find a way to modify or replace that exercise.
  • There is a difference between high intensity exercises performed properly & high intensity exercises performed improperly.
  • Before giving up on “high intensity” exercises that require running & jumping, see if you can find a better way to do them. Try to modify before you eliminate.
  • Look at correcting postural imbalances that may lead to injuries
  • Consider purchasing rehabilitation equipment designed to prevent injuries

and most importantly, remember this…

You would rather visit an orthopedist than a cardiologist……so get off your butt and get some exercise.


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