Researchers say the exercises can be learned in an hour and be done from home.
The grind of day-to-day life has a way of putting stress on the joints in our bodies.
For the 30 million Americans who live with osteoarthritis, the pain in their joints — most commonly felt in their knees, hips, and hands — can range from inconvenient to debilitating.
There’s no medication yet that serves as a “magic bullet” for osteoarthritis, aside from pain medications that provide temporary relief.
Instead, doctors recommend that patients with this ailment use a combination of physical therapy, exercise and weight loss to alleviate pain.
Now, researchers in China have found success using physical therapy, combined with ongoing exercise, to treat pain and improve function for patients with osteoarthritis in their knees.
This new research, published in the medical journal Annals of Family Medicine, adapts the conventional medical wisdom of using exercise to treat osteoarthritis as well as using a more targeted regimen to address knee pain specifically.
Dr. Regina Wing Shan Sit, clinical assistant professor of the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and lead author on the study, told Healthline that exercise is always top of mind when it comes to doctors who treat patients with osteoarthritis (OA).
“We would say exercise is advocated for all patients with knee OA, and it should be prescribed to every patient,” she wrote in an email. “It may not be appropriate to compare it with shots or medications; instead it should be complementary to all existing treatment options.”
Sit and her colleagues have been seeking a way to develop therapies that target knee OA at its root.
So, they set their sights on the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), the inside region of a thigh muscle that extends to the knee.
Sit says the goal was to “fire up” the motor unit of the VMO. To that end, researchers studied patients with knee OA and sent them to physicians to mobilize the joint formed by the kneecap and femur every two months.
The process is simple and inexpensive.
Patients are asked to lie on their side with their knee supported and slightly flexed. This allows the kneecap to gently glide in a medial (closer to center), rather than lateral (farther from center) direction.
“It can be performed without any machine. It’s safe as we don’t add any weight, and it’s cheap as it can be easily conducted by patients at home,” explained Sit. “We believe the VMO is essential in patients with knee OA, especially the subgroup with patellofemoral osteoarthritis.”
In addition to undergoing the procedure every two months, patients are also prescribed exercises to do at home twice per day, which helps the VMO to continue firing.
“Exercise can also enhance one’s self-efficacy in disease management, and exercise is believed to allow pain modulation in the central nervous system,” added Sit.
The results were pronounced.
Of the 208 patients enrolled in the study, those who underwent the therapy reported improvements in their pain scores over those who did not undergo the therapy.
The difference between this and conventional mobilization therapy is that conventional therapies typically require multiple treatment sessions at intense frequency.
Sit’s therapy, on the other hand, can be performed at home and takes patients about an hour to learn and practice.
Osteoarthritis risk factors typically involve, well, wear and tear, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “wear and tear arthritis.”
Symptoms of OA often appear after the age of 50.
The risk can be exacerbated by repetitive bending and stress on the joint.
Being overweight or obese increases stress on joints such as the knees and, in turn, can lead to osteoarthritis.
For these reasons, exercise and physical therapy have long been prescribed for patients with OA.
“Everyone should have weight reduction and exercise,” explained Sit. “Patients should also have a detailed biomechanical assessment by trained primary care physicians, as biomechanical derangement (loose fragments of soft tissue or bone in the knee, interfering with its function) increase individuals’ risks of having knee pain and knee OA.”
Sit, like many physicians, recommends exercise over medications or shots when it comes to treating OA.
“Medications are only advised in acute flares of pain, as long-term use may have adverse side effects, given that OA is common in the elderly with multiply-occurring diseases,” she advises.
As for Sit’s passive patellar mobilization therapy, she says the next steps for her team involve conducting a larger clinical trial, along with a cost-effectiveness analysis.
Until then, the researchers also plan to introduce their method of cost-effective therapy to doctors and patients around the world.
“The patellar mobilization technique will be disseminated in different international and local conferences, workshops, and continuing medical education activities,” concludes Sit.
Medical professionals say the best way to treat knee osteoarthritis is exercise and physical therapy.
Now, new adaptations of this tried-and-true formula are yielding greater results when it comes to reducing the pain from this ailment.
Researchers say the exercise routine takes about an hour to learn and can be done from the comforts of home.