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Activity, Brace May Ease Arthritis Pain

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Oct. 30, 2013 (San Diego) -- Osteoarthritis can be painful, but exercise can improve the quality of life for people with OA or those at high risk for it, according to new research.

For people who have OA of the knee, a simple brace can ease pain greatly, another new study says.

Both studies were presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Diego.

OA, or the ''wear-and-tear'' arthritis linked with age, is the most common form of arthritis. Its symptoms include joint pain and stiffness.

Move to Improve Quality of Life

Even a little exercise can help, says study researcher Kai Sun, MD. She is a researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago.

She compared the quality of life in three groups:

  • Inactive people
  • Those who did some exercise
  • Those who did the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week

"The overall quality of life is better with each increasing level of physical activity," she says.

At the study start and then 2 years later, patients answered questions about their quality of life. This included their energy levels, social interactions, and general health.

People who exercised some said they had 10 more days of good health a year.

People who met the recommended guidelines reported 20 more days of good health a year.

Brace the Knee, Ease the Pain

For people with a form of knee osteoarthritis that affects the kneecap, wearing a knee brace may help pain, says David Felson, MD, MPH. He is a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine.

Knee OA is marked by progressive damage to the joint cartilage, the cushioning material at the end of long bones. The damage can lead to weakened muscles, pain, and swelling.

Patients who wore a knee brace said it reduced pain by about 40% over 6 weeks, Felson says. Based on the study, he recommends a soft Neoprene-like brace, with a hole for the knee cap.

A doctor can best diagnose knee OA, he says.

Felson reports working as a consultant for Knee Creations. Arthritis Research U.K. funded the study.

Improving Life With OA

The findings of both studies make sense, says Milton Helfenstein Jr., MD, a professor of rheumatology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

He recommends both aerobic exercise and strength training for his patients. He tailors the recommendation to their weight and level of fitness. He suggests that someone who hasn't been exercising start with 15 minutes, three times a week, and work up.

Helfenstein also recommends knee braces for patients with the type of knee OA studied, patellofemoral OA. But he is not certain everyone would keep the brace on for the average of 7 hours that the patients in the study did.

He says the brace stabilizes the knee, reducing friction between joints. This lessens the pain.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the ''peer review'' process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

SOURCES: Kai Sun, medical resident, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, San Diego, Oct. 25-30, 2013. David Felson, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine; professor of medicine and public health, The University of Manchester. Milton Helfenstein Jr., MD, professor of rheumatology, Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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