Which types of exercise are best for the treatment of osteoarthritis?

Many clinical trials have successfully highlighted the effectiveness of exercise for osteoarthritis treatment, and as such exercise is frequently recommended in order to relieve pain and improve function. However, researchers have since questioned whether certain types of exercise are more beneficial than others.

Using data from 103 clinical trials, a recent study has been able to assist in answering this question. This systematic review, undertaken by our funded researchers, assessed the effects of different exercise types on specific patient-centred outcomes, including pain, self-reported function, objective performance (e.g. walking speed) and quality of life.

The researchers found that all types of exercise significantly improved each of the measured outcomes compared to usual care, with the largest improvements seen in pain and function when either aerobic (e.g. swimming, jogging) or mind-body (e.g. tai chi, yoga) exercise was undertaken.

The novel finding that mind-body exercise is as effective at relieving pain highlights the potential benefit of exercise that might be able to influence central pain mechanisms, as other forms of exercise, such as strengthening and flexibility, tend to address deficits solely at the joint level.

Mixed exercise (defined as any exercise programme consisting of more than one core exercise) was seen to be the least effective option in this review, though it was still significantly more effective than usual care. The researchers suggest that this may arise from increased complexity of the programme, resulting in poor implementation and adherence.

The researchers conclude that exercise therapy, in any form, has clear benefits for people with knee and hip osteoarthritis, but that effectiveness is dependent on both the type of exercise and the type of outcome required. With this in mind, they hope that these findings will help guide healthcare professionals in their prescription of exercise type based on the specific treatment outcomes that are needed for each individual patient.

More information can be found in the published article here.