Health experts have long touted the benefits of exercise to improve physical and mental health. New research also shows the practice is particularly helpful in preventing cartilage damage caused by arthritis and is a great tool for arthritis management.

A recent study from Queen Mary University in London shows how mechanical forces experienced by cells in our joints suppress the action of inflammatory molecules which cause osteoarthritis.

“We have known for some time that healthy exercise is good for you. Now we know the process through which exercise prevents cartilage degradation,” study author Su Fu, a PhD student at Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said in a news release.

Researchers found exercise impacts tiny hair-like structures — primary cilia — found on living cells, according to the release. The “squashing” of cartilage in joints during exercise is detected by living cells in the cartilage, which block the action of inflammatory molecules. The anti-inflammatory result of physical activity is caused by the activation of HDAC6, a protein triggering changes in the proteins that form primary cilia.

Exercise is essential for arthritis management

Patients needn’t worry about adding an intense workout regimen to their routines, reports the Mayo Clinic. Moderate exercise can ease the pain associated with arthritis management and help patients maintain healthy weights. Exercise also strengthens the muscles around the joints, helps maintain bone strength, boosts energy, improves sleep, enhances quality of life and improves balance.

Although some might have the misconception that exercise could add to joint pain and stiffness, it actually is lack of exercise that intensifies these issues, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“That’s because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones,” the Mayo Clinic states on its website. “Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints.”

The Arthritis Foundation cites a variety of exercises beneficial to countering the effects of the disease. These include exercises involving range of motion or flexibility, aerobic/endurance, strength, walking and aquatic workouts. The foundation recommends patients follow the advice of their physicians or PTs, noting range of motion exercises should generally be done every day.

It’s important to schedule workouts for times of day when symptoms are the least painful, according to an article by Harvard Health Publishing.

The article suggests warming up with gentle stretches before strength training and listening to your body. Never force a movement if experiencing sharp pain or more discomfort than usual. For rheumatoid arthritis, a balance of rest and exercise is key.

“Exercise is good. But exercise intelligently,” Basher Zikria, MD, an assistant professor of sports medicine at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore told the Arthritis Foundation. “Low-impact exercises, like walking, cycling or using an elliptical machine are smart choices. If you run, play basketball or do other high-impact activities, avoid hard surfaces and don’t do it every day.”

Exercise also offers physiological benefits, including a reduced risk of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, serum lipid abnormalities, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and colon cancer, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Physical activity replenishes lubrication of cartilage, reducing stiffness and pain.

Psychological benefits, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, include decreased anxiety, improved mood and well-being and a state of relaxation.

PTs are excellent resources to teach exercises to patients to ease symptoms for better arthritis management.


May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. It is estimated arthritis impacts more than 50 million Americans each year and is the No. 1 disability in the country, according to the Arthritis Foundation. 

We offer an Arthritis Management Bundle with courses for PTs that includes:

The Management of Knee Osteoarthritis
(1 contact hr)

All clinical, practicing physical therapists encounter patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or a potential for developing the disease. Osteoarthritis is the leading cause for disability in the general population of the United States. Arthritis of the knee alone afflicts more than 4 million people, and research shows that 14% of individuals aged between 40 and 79 described knee pain with disability on most days of the previous month. Because of the increase in life expectancy within most societies of the western world, the high prevalence of OA is expected to increase further in upcoming years. For example, the number of first-time total knee replacements is expected to skyrocket 673% to 3.48 billion by 2030. Physical therapy is among the treatment options for people who suffer from osteoarthritis and intends to prevent physical impairment and restore functional ability through the use of exercise, physical modalities and patient education.

Back in Action With Joint Replacements, Part 1
(1 contact hr)

More than 7.2 million people in the United States have had hip or knee replacement procedures. The number of people having total knee arthroplasty has increased significantly in the past 25 years, driven in part by an increase in the number of aging persons and by increasing rates of obesity. This two-part continuing education series will educate healthcare providers about total hip arthroplasty and total knee arthroplasty. Part 1 discusses the effects of arthritis on the knee and hip as weight-bearing joints, outlines indications for joint replacement, and reviews joint replacement surgical procedures and patient management by interprofessional healthcare providers.

Back in Action With Joint Replacements, Part 2
(1 contact hr)
This module describes caring for patients who have undergone total hip replacement or knee replacement, stressing the pivotal role of the healthcare professional in educating patients to manage the transition from hospital to home. The module reviews key factors for a successful outcome.

Osteoarthritis of the First CMC Joint
(1 contact hr)

We tend to take our thumbs for granted; that is, until they hurt. The thumb’s important functional role is evident in its 20% whole person impairment rating, which measures the impact of impairment and loss of function on a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living. With a loss of use of a thumb, there is a 20% loss of ability to perform normal activities such as opening lids, tying shoes and even shaking someone’s hand. A painful thumb restricts a person’s independence. Because there is no cure for arthritis, the primary treatment is patient education. Patients need to learn techniques to manage symptoms and perhaps slow the progression of joint changes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis — Living with a Chronic Disease
(1 contact hr)

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder. The prognosis has improved dramatically for newly diagnosed patients. The focus of this module is to help us understand how RA is diagnosed, how it develops, its characteristic signs and symptoms, treatment strategies, nursing interventions, and non-pharmacologic preventative therapies. The purpose of this module is to educate the healthcare professional team about the development of RA, current treatment approaches, and therapeutic interventions that can help people with RA better manage their disease.