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Myth that Exercise and Arthritis Don't Mix Still Lingers

New Spine-health poll finds that a majority of arthritis patients chose options other than exercise for treating osteoarthritis.

May 26, 2005

Deerfield, Illinois: Most patients still believe something other than exercise is the most effective non-drug treatment for osteoarthritis, according to a new poll conducted by

The poll of 897 back pain patients shows that 53% of patients chose options besides exercise as the best course of action for treating osteoarthritis pain and inflammation. 18% chose “heat/ice”, 12% chose “rest”, 12% chose “manipulation (e.g., chiropractic/osteopathic adjustments)”, 9% chose “acupuncture” and 2% chose “support devices (e.g., a brace)”.

“For years, people with arthritis thought the right answer was to avoid activity, physical therapy and exercise, for fear that their pain would get worse. Well, avoiding activity and exercise is actually the wrong answer,” says Vert Mooney, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon in San Diego, and author of a new article published on about spinal osteoarthritis treatment options. “The common thread among most osteoarthritis patients successfully managing their condition, including reducing pain and improving movement, is regular exercise. While the poll results show that more and more people understand the role of exercise in helping improve osteoarthritis symptoms, there is work to do in adequately busting the myth that arthritis and exercise don’t mix.”

Of the several varieties of arthritis, the most common, disabling and often the most painful is osteo- (meaning bone) arthritis, mostly affecting knees, hips, hands, feet and the spine. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, affects up to 30 million Americans, mostly women and usually those over 45 or 50 years of age.

Normally, joints have remarkably little friction and move easily, but with degeneration of the joint, the cartilage becomes rough and likely worn out—causing the joint halves to rub against each other, creating pain and limiting motion.

For those with osteoarthritis, exercise should focus on strengthening the muscles around the joints (removing some stress from the joints), improving joint mobility and reducing joint stiffness and pain. The recommended categories of exercise usually include strengthening (done on resistance or weight machines or with exercise bands), low impact aerobics, and range of motion exercises. Popular activities for arthritis sufferers include gentle exercises such as swimming and other water therapy, walking, stationary cycling, yoga, even golf. “The key is making the patient’s muscles work harder (not necessarily faster or longer) than they usually do with normal daily activity. However, exercise needs to be done correctly to avoid causing further joint pain and should be guided by an appropriately trained physical therapist or another professional,” adds Dr. Mooney.

Further information on osteoarthritis and treatment options, including exercise, medication, and surgery, can be found in the Spine-health Arthritis and Osteoarthritis Health Center on

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