Osteoarthritis is characterized by the gradual deterioration of cartilage and bone within a joint. It is most commonly seen in joints that are load-bearing or highly mobile such as the fingers, hips, knees, lower back, and feet. Healthy cartilage is able to function much like a sponge as it absorbs and releases synovial fluid as the joint experiences movement and pressure. In some people, cartilage is damaged through a variety of different mechanisms and is either broken away from bones or becomes inflamed. This inflammatory process can disrupt the normal maintenance of cartilage and cause further breakdown. Eventually, with the loss of more cartilage, bones are exposed in the joint space. Bones do not respond well to direct contact and will form abnormal growths, known as bone spurs, which can irritate and further damage the structures of the joint. The most common symptoms in affected joints include pain, inflammation, reduced range of motion, and grinding sensations upon movement.


Risk factors for osteoarthritis include age, inactivity, obesity, a history of joint trauma, and repetitive joint motions. These problematic movement patterns will only serve to enhance the likelihood of osteoarthritis and result in a faster progression of the condition. In fact, research shows that older adults with knee osteoarthritis perform poorly on measures of functional performance and postural stability. Corrective exercise programs are vital for clients who suffer from osteoarthritis to restore more optimal movement patterns and reduce stress on affected joints.


There is no cure for osteoarthritis and since pain is alleviated with rest, many of those afflicted tend to avoid regular exercise for fear of pain. Osteoarthritis is not caused by exercise itself. In fact, a lack of physical activity can accelerate the loss of healthy cartilage by reducing the movement of synovial fluid necessary to maintain tissue health. A recent study on aerobic and resistance exercise shows that older adults who exercise are effectively able to relieve arthritic pain and improve joint function.

The most common treatments for osteoarthritis include anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, and ibuprofen.


Exercise is safe for almost everyone. In fact, studies show that people with osteoarthritis benefit from regular exercise and physical activity. For people with osteoarthritis, regular exercise can help:


  • Maintain healthy and strong muscles

  • Preserve joint mobility

  • Maintain range of motion

  • Improve sleep 

  • Reduce pain

  • Keep a positive attitude

  • Maintain a healthy body weight



These exercise EXAMPLES are INFORMATION ONLY and are not intended to be instruction, advice, or incorporated into any individual exercise program. Use of or experimentation with any of the EXAMPLE EXCERCISES will be solely at your own risk. Always consult a Physician before beginning any exercise program. It is highly recommended to seek the advice of a Certified Personal Trainer, especially one with Senior Fitness experience.



3 types of exercise are best if you have Osteoarthritis



Flexibility exercises can help keep joints moving, relieve stiffness, and give you more freedom of movement for everyday activities. Examples of flexibility exercises include upper- and lower-body stretching, yoga, and tai chi.



Strengthening exercises will help you maintain or add to your muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect joints. Weight-bearing exercises, such as weight lifting, fall into this category. You can use bottles of water or soup cans if you don’t have weights.



Endurance exercises make the heart and arteries healthier and may lessen swelling in some joints. Try low-impact options such as swimming and biking.



Before beginning any exercise program, talk with your health care provider about the best activities for you to try or see a certified personal trainer who has a specialty certification for helping older adults


Important Tip:


You may need to avoid some types of activity when joints are swollen or inflamed. If you have pain in a specific joint area, for example, you may need to focus on another area for a day or two.



©2014 NASM National Academy of Sports Medicine