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Osteoarthritis health centre

Exercise and physiotherapy

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have osteoarthritis. It tells you about exercise and physiotherapy, treatments used for osteoarthritis. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. If you have osteoarthritis of the knee, exercise can reduce your pain and disability and help you lead a more normal life. We're not sure how well it works for osteoarthritis of the hip.

Other physical therapies, including heat or ice treatments, are popular for dealing with osteoarthritis. But there isn't any good evidence that these treatments help, although they might make your joint feel better for a short time.

What are they?

Exercise for osteoarthritis can be either general exercises for your whole body, like walking, swimming, or aerobic exercises, or it can be specific exercises for the joint that is troubling you. The best specific exercises for the knee may be those that strengthen the muscle at the front of the thigh.

There are many different exercises that may help your osteoarthritis. You should discuss what might work best for you with your doctor or a physiotherapist. An exercise programme may include strengthening and stretching exercises. Your physiotherapist may also recommend a treatment to help your joint move better, called manual mobilisation.

Knee exercises

These are strengthening exercises for the muscles at the front of your thighs. In one exercise, you lift your leg straight up in the air. You do 200 of these straight leg-raises a day. Your knee joint doesn't actually move, but you strengthen the muscles that support it.

Resistance exercise

knee-exercise_default.jpgYou lie flat and lift your heel straight up until it's 30 centimetres (1 foot) off the ground. You bend your foot up and down and side to side in a T shape, and you repeat this pattern three times. You may then move on to an exercise in which you stand against a wall and slide into a squatting position so that your knee is bent to 30 degrees. You hold this for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat three times.

General aerobic exercise

This form of exercise is designed to improve your overall fitness. It improves the ability of your heart to pump blood around your body and the ability of your lungs to take in air. It can help you lose weight and feel good about yourself. Aerobic exercise should increase your heart rate (your pulse). You can do aerobic exercise in various ways:

  • Swimming: 30 minutes, three times a week

  • Walking: 30 minutes, three times a week

  • Cycling: 30 minutes, three times a week.

Before exercising

Some physical therapies, such as warm baths, spas, and moist, or dry, warm packs, can make your joints feel warm, and you may find any one of these treatments useful before exercising. You can also use ice packs or cooling sprays (for example, ones that contain menthol) to make your joint cooler and prevent soreness.

Manual mobilisation

In addition to helping you exercise, your physiotherapist may also provide a therapy called manual mobilisation. This involves using their hands to move your joint and the soft tissue around it. The goal is to improve your joint movement and stability, and lower your pain

Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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