What did the research say?
Research just published has found that regular aquatic exercise such as swimming could help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis including pain and stiffness in the joints, plus it may make it easier to carry out everyday tasks that are physical.1 The study also found that swimming increased muscle strength and could even change mind set – people became more positive about their condition and believed they could do more than before.
Participants in this study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group completed a programme of aquatic exercise for 8 weeks whilst the second group did not do any exercise.
Over the course of this period, participants rated the scale of their pain, stiffness and ability to carry out physical activities. Those doing regular aquatic exercise saw a significant drop in terms of the severity of these problems, whilst the control group did not.
Measurements were also gained of isokinetic muscle strength which refers to how the muscles contract and shorten during movement. Again, those doing aquatic exercise experienced more positive results here.
How can swimming help osteoarthritis?
Due to these positive results, researchers in this study suggest that aquatic exercise should be prescribed by doctors as a means of managing osteoarthritis longer term.
Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage (which prevents two bones from rubbing together) begins to wear down quicker than it can be replaced. This causes the bones to come into contact and they may eventually begin to degenerate, with abnormal surfaces developing. At this point, inflammation can become chronic and cartilage can grow abnormally, causing spurs which can impinge painfully on nerves.
The risk of developing the condition increases with age, but other risk factors include injury, a family history of the problem or obesity.
Aquatic exercise can also encourage weight loss, which is a positive for anyone with osteoarthritis as being overweight may make the problem worse. Plus, as I've just mentioned, it is a risk factor for developing the issue in the first place.
On top of this, swimming is a good option for those experiencing osteoarthritis symptoms because the water takes the strain off the joints and helps to support the body as you move. This may increase the range of movements you are able to do, whilst pushing your limbs through the water will stretch out the muscles and joints and help build up strength too.
Aqua-aerobics is another water-based activity that could prove beneficial for those with osteoarthritis. There are lots of different aqua-aerobics classes available - some will be done accompanied to music, for example, whilst others can be completed on water bikes. All of these offer similar benefits to swimming as they are low-impact exercises.
Other exercises to ease osteoarthritis
Strenuous and repetitive exercises such as running or weight lifting are definitely ones to avoid if you have osteoarthritis because these can put additional strain on the joints. Low-impact sports are a more suitable alternative. As well as swimming, this includes activities such as:
- Fast-paced walking
How to deal with symptoms of osteoarthritis
As well as engaging in regular exercise, natural remedies can help to bring some relief from osteoarthritis.
- Massage Atrogel Arnica Gel into the painful joint for immediate and effective relief from pain and stiffness.
- Atrosan Devil's Claw tablets can be taken internally to help reduce inflammatory pain throughout the body. This works in a cumulative manner so is a longer-term solution.
- Glucosamine sulphate is a supplement which, when taken longer term, can help to repair the damage done by osteoarthritis. It needs to be taken in sufficient quantities (1,500mg daily) and may take about 2-4 months to show its best effects.
Other than this, you may wish to consider your diet as certain foods may help to ease symptoms, whilst others can make the problem worse.
- Oily fish and certain nuts and seeds (walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds) contain omega-3 which has anti-inflammatory properties. If oily fish isn't present in your diet regularly, you could also consider a natural omega-3 supplement.
- Drinking lots of coffee can contribute to inflammation so this is something to cut down on. In its place, drink plenty of plain, still water which can help to keep the joints lubricated. We should be aiming for 1.5 to 2 litres per day.
- Nettle also boasts anti-inflammatory properties so a nettle tea could easily be taken instead of your usual hot drink.