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Fitness Facts: What is OA and how do I prevent it?

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) involves breakdown of cartilage within a joint, leading to pain, stiffness and swelling. It is the most common form of arthritis. “Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability in older adults and is associated with large health care and personal costs”. Conservative, non-pharmacological methods are often the first line of treatment in the management of OA. These include physical activity and exercise, self-management education, weight loss, psychosocial and integrative health, and bracing, taping and assistive devices.

Am I at risk for developing OA?

Although there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis (OA), there are certain factors that can be addressed to aid in the prevention of the disease. Obesity is the number 1 risk factor for developing OA in weight-bearing joints, especially the knees. This is due to excessive stress which is more than the joint and surrounding structures can handle. Maintaining a healthy body composition can reduce excess forces on the joints and decrease inflammation associated with OA.

Are there any other risks for developing knee OA specifically?

A study that included over 46,000 participants found that quadricep weakness was associated with the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA) and other knee injuries. This correlation was found more in women than men. Optimization of lower extremity strength, specifically of the quadriceps is both a protective and low-cost method in the prevention and management of knee OA. Quadricep strengthening is also important for overall knee joint health and the prevention of other knee injuries such as meniscal tears.

What exercises can I do to strengthen my quadriceps?

  • Wall Squats: Begin in a standing upright position in front of a wall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lean back into a squat against the wall with your knees bent to 90 degrees, and hold this position. Make sure your knees are not bent forward past your toes and keep your back flat against the wall during the exercise.
  • Lunges: Begin standing upright with your hands resting on your hips and your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your trunk upright, step forward and lower your body toward the ground into a lunge position, then carefully return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Make sure to keep your trunk steady. Do not let your front knee collapse inward or move forward past your toes as you lunge.
  • Knee Extension with Weight Machine (a great exercise if you have access to a gym!): Begin by sitting on the seat of the machine, placing your feet underneath the roller pad. Your knees should bend right at the edge of the seat and the roller pad should rest just above your ankles. Engage the muscles in the front of your thigh to lift the roller pad up with one foot, straightening your leg, then slowly reverse the movement, and repeat. Make sure to keep your movements slow and controlled. Do not let your knees lock during the exercise.

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