“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” ~Plato
This is a truth that has stood the test of time. While Plato was without a treadmill, proper shoes, kettlebells, or the benefit of multiple supportive studies about the benefits of exercise, he was still able to notice the effect regular physical activity has on the body. Since that time, we have been able to take this seemingly obvious statement and prove it through study and practice.
As we age, a common complaint of many people is joint pain. What is it? Is it better to rest the joint or work the joint? Should we “play through it” or does that cause more damage to the joint? The most common cause of joint pain is osteoarthritis. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) reports osteoarthritis occurs when the top layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows bones under the cartilage to rub together. The rubbing causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. Also, bone spurs may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space, which causes more pain and damage. Sounds horrible, eh?
One study, published in the Journal of Rheumatology, followed two groups of individuals with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis over fours months. One group followed their regular routine. The other group performed simple weight bearing exercise, including such things as squats and leg extensions. Those who performed simple weight training exercises reported a 43 percent reduction in pain and a 44 percent improvement in physical functioning (walking, stair climbing, sitting, and standing) than compared to the non-exercising group.
The researchers conclude that high intensity, strength training can produce substantial improvements in strength, pain, physical function and quality of life in patients with knee osteoarthritis. They reason that weight training exercise can reduce the symptoms of arthritis because strong muscles act as shock absorbers for the joints. If muscles are able to take pressure off of the joints during activities such as walking, there is less joint-related pressure and pain.
3 Types Of Exercise Are Best For People With Arthritis
What types of exercise are most suitable for someone with arthritis?
Range-of-motion exercise (e.g., dance) help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness. This type of exercise helps maintain or increase flexibility.
Strengthening exercise (e.g. weight training) help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.
Aerobic or endurance exercise (e.g. bicycle riding) improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function.
A 2003 study published in Journal of Arthritis and Rheumotology found that people with arthritis can safely improve their levels of physical fitness using a regular strength and endurance training program. And in the Journal of the American Medical Association, studies report strength training can help people with arthritis preserve bone density and improve muscle mass, strength and balance.
Practically, if you suffer from joint pain, it is best to work with a professional trainer who not only knows which exercise are most beneficial for strengthening the supporting musculature, a trainer also monitors your progress and can assess weaknesses allowing for adapting exercises appropriately.
So to answer the question of rest the joints or work the joints, research seems to support Plato's original premise. Keep moving!