Diet, Exercise Reduce Arthritis Pain by R Mandanah Stockton

Last year, while watering my tomato plants my flip-flop caught on the edge of our driveway and I tripped; as I went down I heard a nauseating snap.  After an extensive MRI, I learned that I had ruptured my ACL — the ligament behind the knee cap–and had torn much of the cartilage cushioning my left knee joint.

Since my knee surgery a year ago, I’ve joined a new demographic:  I’m one of the 27 million Americans managing osteoarthritis.  And, I say “managing” because there is no cure for the condition, which is caused by a breakdown of the cartilage around the knee joint.

While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, a new study published in the current issue of JAMA has some encouraging news for those muddling through their days trying to keep knee pain at bay.

Study Details

The study was conducted by Dr Stephen Messier and his team from Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  Since obesity is a major risk factor for arthritis, research focused on the benefits of weight loss and exercise for those experiencing significant knee pain.

For the study, the team analyzed 454 overweight and obese adults for 18 months.  Participants were divided into three groups; some were placed on a diet and exercise plan.  The other two groups consisted of those who were placed on a diet plan only and those who were exclusively given an exercise plan.

The results were encouraging; all participants showed improvement.  The diet and exercise group reported a greater reduction in pain (51%) than both the diet-only-group and the exercise group.  Additionally, this group was able to increase walking their walking speed.  Participants who dieted only reported a 25% reduction in pain, while those in the exercise group experienced 28% less pain.

The exercise part of the equation supports previous studies that have shown that muscle weakness around the knee joint is a risk factor for developing arthritis.  According to the Arthritis Foundation, exercises that specifically strengthen the thigh muscle can significantly reduce joint risk.

Arthritis Risk Factors

Although obesity is a major risk factor in developing osteoarthritis, there are others:

  • Overuse and/or Injury
  • Genetics
  • Age

Per the Arthritis Foundation, the symptoms of arthritis are as follows:

  • joint soreness after inactivity or overuse
  • morning stiffness for up to 30 minutes after rising
  • pain that increases as the day wears on

Tips for Managing Arthritis Pain

The Wake Forest team suggests exercising for 1 hour at least three times a week to maintain a healthy weight and to keep joints mobile.

However, the pain factor can make exercising difficult, at least for the first few minutes.  Lynn Y., a nurse from Northwest Arkansas drinks a cup of coffee thirty minutes before working out because coffee releases dopamine, a natural pain reducer, in the brain.

Studies have also shown that a nutrient rich diet may reduce inflammation and ease arthritis pain.  Earlier this year, the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism published a study that suggests sulflorophane, a compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may reduce inflammation in the joints, according to Medical News Today.

Personal Experience

After my initial physical therapy post surgery, I worked up to exercising 4-5 hours per week using an elliptical and walking on a treadmill at a relatively steep incline to target my thigh muscles.  In addition to easing knee pain and stiffness, I lost 25 pounds without significantly changing my eating habits, which were already pretty healthy.  As for the tomato plants?  That investment didn’t pan out too well last summer, but this year-we’ve had a bumper crop.

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