By Dr. Mercola
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of arthritic joint disease, characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint. It also has an inflammatory component. Osteoarthritis is a frequent cause of disability among seniors, affecting 20 million people in the U.S. alone.
While osteoarthritis typically involves the distal joints on your fingers and toes, knee and hip osteoarthritis is also common, the latter of which is the focus of this article. Contrary to popular belief, if you have osteoarthritis then exercise is absolutely crucial to your well-being.
Unfortunately, many with joint pain shun exercise. According to previous research,1 over 40 percent of men and 56 percent of women with osteoarthritis don't even get 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. Less than 13 percent of men and less than 8 percent of women met the guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, low-impact activity per week.
According to the lead researcher, "The fact that so many people with arthritis are inactive should be a wake-up call to physicians."Indeed, if physicians could instill the importance of exercise to their arthritis patients, many would benefit immensely.
Your Diet Matters
Addressing your diet is also critical, both for weight loss and for controlling inflammation, and promoting healthy bones and cartilage. Homemade bone broth is an outstanding staple food if you have arthritis, as it contains a number of important nutrients for your bones and joints, including minerals, components of collagen and cartilage, silicon, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate.
Two recent studies2 confirmed that people who eat a processed and fried food diet high in sugars and red meat are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) than those who eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, poultry, and fish. A number of supplements such as turmeric, Hyaluronic acid, and astaxanthin, among others, may also be helpful for controlling the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
How Does Exercise Benefit Osteoarthritis?
The notion that exercise is detrimental to your joints is a misconception; there is no evidence to support this belief. It's simply a myth that you can "wear down" your joints such as your knees and hips from average levels of exercise and/or normal activity.
Rather, the evidence points to exercise having a positive impact on joint tissues. Importantly, exercise can help reduce joint pain and make it easier for you to perform daily tasks. Also, if you exercise sufficiently to lose weight or maintain an ideal weight, you reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis in the first place.
Arthritis rates are more than twice as high in obese people as those who are normal weight, because the extra weight puts more pressure on your joints. This can not only lead to osteoarthritis, it can also make the condition exponentially worse.
Exercises for Osteoarthritis in the Hip
For a demonstration of the following exercises, which will help strengthen your hips and improve flexibility, please see the video above, created by CTC Healthcare. These exercises include the following:
Flexibility Exercises for Hip Osteoarthritis
Single knee hugging — Lying on your back, grab your right knee and pull it toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
Bilateral knee hugging — Lying on your back, grab both knees and pull them toward your chest. Hold for 20 seconds.
"Cobra pose"— Lie face-down on the floor, hands parallel to your shoulders. Straighten your arms, lifting your upper torso off the floor.
Your lower back should be arched, with your pelvis making contact with the floor. Hold for 20 seconds, then lower yourself back down.
Hip flexion with abduction/adduction — Lying on your back, bring one knee up toward your chest. Holding your knee with both hands, roll your knee from one side to the other for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
External hip rotation — Lying on your back, pull your right knee toward your chest. Place your right hand on the knee and your left hand on the ankle.
Gently pull your right ankle in the direction of your head. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on your left leg.
Internal hip rotation — Lying face-down, bend your knees 90 degrees, and let your feet fall outward. Hold for 30 seconds.
Strengthening Exercises for Hip Osteoarthritis
"The Clam" — Lie on your side, feet together, and knees slightly bent. Raise your top knee as far as you can, then lower back down. Repeat 15 times, then switch to the other side.
Bridging — Lying on your back, with your feet flat on the floor, raise your hips toward the ceiling. Pause for a few seconds before lowering back down. Repeat five times.
Knee pivots — Lie on your side, feet together, and knees slightly bent. Raise your top knee and foot. Holding your knee in a raised position, pivot your foot up and down. Repeat 15 times, then switch to the other side.
Heel pivots — Lie on your side, feet together, and knees slightly bent. Raise your top knee and foot.
Holding your foot in a stationary position in the air, pivot your knee up and down. Repeat 15 times, then switch to the other side.
How to Exercise Safely with Osteoarthritis
People with arthritis must be careful to avoid activities that aggravate joint pain. You should avoid any exercise that strains a significantly unstable joint. That said, do include a range of activities in your exercise program, just as any other exerciser would. Weight training, high-intensity cardio, stretching, and core work can all be integrated into your routine according to your ability.
If you have osteoarthritis in your knee, be sure to incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh. And, rather than running or other high-impact exercise, you may be better off with non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming and bicycling.
According to a recent review of 19 studies, land- and water-based exercises have similar benefits for hip osteoarthritis in the short term. According to Reuters:3
"The 19 studies in the review all tested different type, frequency, and duration of exercise, so the best sort of exercise, how much and how often to do it, remains to be determined ... [but it] would appear that ... exercises generally including strengthening and range of motion three times per week is beneficial ..."
If you find that you're in pain for longer than one hour after your exercise session, you should slow down or choose another form of exercise. Assistive devices are also helpful to decrease the pressure on affected joints during your workout. You may also want to work with a physical therapist or qualified personal trainer who can develop a safe range of activities for you.
Korean Medicine for Arthritis
As noted in an article by Dr. Seo Hyo-seok, director of the Pyunkang Korean Medicine Hospital,4 in Korean medicine arthritis is thought to be related to depressed kidney function:
"When the kidneys are weak, the circulation of energy and blood during cold weather will not be strong, and residue of various substances will be generated and accumulate in the joints ...This residue will eventually decompose and become arthritis. Regenerate cartilage by improving the health of the kidneys and lungs ...
[M]odern medicine has also acknowledged the close relationship between the kidneys and bones by showing that erythropoietin, a hormone secreted by the kidneys when oxygen levels are low, signals the bone marrow to increase the production of red blood cells. The kidneys also help regulate and metabolize calcium, a key ingredient in bones ...
[W]hen people are weak, they need to strengthen the functions of a superior organ. Accordingly, since the superior organ of the kidneys is the lungs, it is possible to restore the fundamental health of the bones by fortifying the health of the lungs."
In Oriental medicine, treating arthritis involves maintaining good blood circulation and keeping your joints warm. Exercise accomplishes this, but Oriental medicine also uses techniques like moxibustion, cupping, acupuncture, and herbal formulas.
According to Dr. Seo Hyo-seok, you can significantly regenerate cartilage in about six months of herbal treatments that focus on cleansing your lungs. Once you regain the elasticity of your cartilage, even advanced arthritis may be reversed.
Ozone and Laser Therapy
Dr. Robert Rowen, one of the leading ozone physicians in the U.S., has successfully treated many patients with ozone therapy as an alternative to surgical intervention.
If the ozone treatment fails, there is no harm and you can always have surgery later, but if you have surgery and it fails, the surgery may cause irreversible damage. The video above offers powerful testimony by a woman with severe degeneration in her knees.
Another alternative worthy of consideration is a "cold" infrared laser treatment (also called K-Laser), a relatively new type of therapy that speeds healing by increasing tissue oxygenation and allowing injured cells to absorb photons of light.
This special type of laser has positive effects on muscles, ligaments, and even bones, and the K-laser has the ability to penetrate deeply into your body, allowing it to be used treat problems like arthritis of the knee and hip. It also stimulates the mitochondria to produce more ATP and accelerate healing.
Helpful Supplements for Osteoarthritis Pain and Inflammation
Pain during movement is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of osteoarthritis. Typically this is a result of your bones starting to come into contact with each other as cartilage and synovial fluid is reduced. If you don't take action it can become progressively worse until you are unable to carry out your normal daily activities.
Eating a healthy diet of REAL food, ideally organically grown to avoid inflammatory contaminants such as pesticides, can go a long way toward reducing inflammation and giving your body the nutrients it needs to heal. Also consider making your own homemade bone broth, which you can drink "straight" or use for soups and stews. Also, be sure to get regular exercise.
The ones detailed above are designed to help improve flexibility and strength in your hip joint, but regular strength training, high intensity exercises, stretching, and core workouts are also advisable.
To address pain, I recommend avoiding anti-inflammatory drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics like Tylenol, which are often recommended to osteoarthritis patients, as chronic use of these types of medications is associated with significant, and very serious, side effects such as kidney and/or liver damage.
Fortunately, a number of supplements have been shown to be helpful for addressing the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, including the following:
Turmeric/ curcumin — A study5 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that taking turmeric extract each day for six weeks was just as effective as ibuprofen for relieving knee osteoarthritis pain.
This is most likely related to the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin – the pigment that gives the turmeric spice its yellow-orange color.
Other research into curcumin's benefits for osteoarthritis is discussed in the video above.
Vitamin D — Cartilage loss, one of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis, is associated with low levels of vitamin D.
So if you're struggling with joint pain due to osteoarthritis, get your vitamin D level tested, then optimize it using appropriate sun exposure or a high-quality tanning bed. If neither of these options is available, you may want to consider oral vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 supplements.
Astaxanthin — Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory carotenoid.
By decreasing inflammation, astaxanthin can help prevent, and treat, a number of problems that result directly from inflammation, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis.
One study6 showed that after receiving astaxanthin for eight weeks, RA sufferers showed a 35 percent improvement in pain levels, as well as a 40 percent improvement in their ability to perform daily activities.
Astaxanthin suppresses a number of inflammatory mediators — including tumor necrosis factor alpha, a major prostaglandin and a major interleukin, nitric oxide, COX-1, and COX-2 enzymes.
While it takes longer to produce effects than NSAIDs, it doesn't have any dangerous side effects.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) — Hyaluronic acid7 is a key component of your cartilage, responsible for moving nutrients into your cells and removing waste.
One of its most important biological functions is the retention of water, second only to providing nutrients and removing waste from cells that lack a direct blood supply, such as cartilage cells.
Unfortunately, the process of normal aging reduces the amount of HA synthesized by your body. Oral hyaluronic acid supplementation may effectively help cushion your joints after just two to four months.
Your orthopedists can also inject hyaluronic acid directly into the synovial spaces of your arthritic joints.
Studies show this can help increase cartilage biosynthesis. It also has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving (analgesic) effects.8
Eggshell membrane — The eggshell membrane is the unique protective barrier between the egg white and the mineralized eggshell.
The membrane contains elastin, a protein that supports cartilage health, and collagen, a fibrous protein that supports cartilage and connective tissue strength and elasticity.
It also contains transforming growth factor-b, a protein that supports tissue rejuvenation, along with other amino acids and structural components that support the stability and flexibility of your joints by providing them with the building blocks needed to build cartilage.
An inexpensive way to obtain these nutrients is to grind up the eggshell using a coffee grinder, and adding the powder to your smoothie. I recommend using only organic pastured eggs.
Boswellia — Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this Indian herb is one treatment I've found to be particularly useful against arthritic inflammation and associated pain.
With sustained use, boswellia may help maintain steady blood flow to your joints, supporting your joint tissues' ability to boost flexibility and strength.
Animal-based omega-3 fats — These are excellent for arthritis because omega-3s are well known to help reduce inflammation. Look for a high-quality, animal-based source such as krill oil.
Sulfur/Epsom salt soaks/MSM — In addition to making sure you're getting ample amounts of sulfur-rich foods in your diet, such as organic and/or grass-fed/pastured beef and poultry, Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT, recommends soaking your body in magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) baths to counteract sulfur deficiency.
She uses about 1/4 cup in a tub of water, twice a week. It's particularly useful if you have joint problems or arthritis. Methylsulfonylmethane (known as MSM) is another alternative you might find helpful.
MSM is an organic form of sulfur and a potent antioxidant naturally found in many plants. It is available in supplement form.