Improve the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis & Osteoporosis with Water Exercise

Improve the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis & Osteoporosis with Water Exercise

       As individuals progress throughout their lives, there are common ailments and conditions that are a normal process of the aging phenomena. Specifically related to the musculoskeletal system, two of the more common conditions are osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Both can occur individually, or concomitantly with one another; however, the pathophysiology behind how they develop differs. Staying active throughout our lives can help combat these normal aging processes. Furthermore, it is great to adapt diverse exercise strategies that allow our bodies to adapt to altered, appropriate stresses. This includes cardiovascular exercise such as walking or running, resistance training with weights, engaging in sport-related activity, and aquatics. This article will highlight the common impact osteoarthritis and osteoporosis has on women specifically, as well as how water exercises can assist in maintaining a healthy lifestyle for those at risk.


       Osteo, coming from the Greek word of “osteon”, is translated to bone, as both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are conditions that affect the bones in our body. Articular cartilage is smooth, white tissue that covers the ends of bones when they come together to form joints. Think of the analogy of the skin that covers an apple. When an apple starts to go bad, that skin eventually becomes bruised and weak. This is the same phenomenon that occurs with osteoarthritis. As we age and continue to place our bodies through a large amount of stress, the articular cartilage begins to wear down, eventually leading to osteoarthritis. This is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. Some of the most common signs and symptoms including morning stiffness that eventually decreases throughout the day, a pain quality of a deep ache that is aggravated by weight-bearing activity, and occasional “giving-way” of a joint when walking.


       In contrast, osteoporosis is a common bone disease characterized by progressive loss of bone mineral density (BMD). The decrease in the density of our bones makes individuals at more risk of developing high-impact, or even low-impact stress fractures. This disease process is especially more common in postmenopausal, Caucasian females. Other risk factors include athletic amenorrhea, which translates to lean, thin females missing menstrual cycles secondary to hormonal imbalances from intense exercise, certain cancers, Vitamin D deficiency, or chronic use of corticosteroids. The best way to diagnose osteoporosis is with a DEXA scan, which is a non-invasive test that measures BMD to determine if one is at risk to develop this disease process. This is an important test that should be regularly conducted for middle-aged and elderly females, especially if one presents with additional risk factors.


       Although both of these disease processes can result in difficulty with activities of daily living for women, there are several ways to combat their further development. Regular exercise plays a vital role in keeping our bones strong and healthy. As previously discussed, it is more beneficial for an individual to perform numerous types of exercise rather than solely one form of exercise, as this allows each body system to be trained, including our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and pulmonary systems. Wolf’s Law is a theory that states bone will grow directly in proportion to the amount of stress that is placed upon it in a healthy person.  Moreover, there are great benefits for those with osteoporosis to exercise on land with appropriate exercise parameters to enhance the benefit of bone strength. However, a common complaint for individuals with especially osteoarthritis, and even osteoporosis, is difficulty with prolonged weight-bearing activities secondary to reproduction of their pain. One strategy to combat this struggle and still be able to exercise is with aquatic therapy.


       The main benefit of aquatic therapy for those with osteoarthritis and osteoporosis is the buoyancy counteraction of the water, creating a downward pull of gravity, which results in a reduction in the amount of weight placed on our joints. The exercises one would perform on land can be executed the same way in water, with similar benefits, including aerobics, strengthening exercises, and stretching exercises. In addition to the reduction in body weight forces, water naturally creates a resistance that our body must overcome, so by exercising in water, it helps build strength for our muscles, tendons, and ligaments which all support our joints. If someone is in a highly irritable state and has difficulty exercising on land, aquatic therapy is a great place to start. The slightly higher increase in water temperature (usually around 92-98 degrees Fahrenheit), with a low to moderate level of exercise creates a soothing environment for the joints of our body, which can not only help in pain reduction, but also promote improvements in function. Some of the benefits specifically for women with osteoporosis includes a decrease in fall risk that could lead to potential fractures, a reduction in bone loss or breakdown, improvements in cardiovascular fitness, reduction in pain, improvements in joint mobility, and improvements in muscular strength.


       To learn more about the beneficial effects of aquatic therapy specifically for osteoarthritis, please feel free to visit a previously written article related to this topic! The link is placed here below:


Aquatic Exercise and Osteoarthritis: https://www.swimandsweat.com/water-exercise-arthritis


Here are two examples of exercises that an individual can perform in water if they have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis:


  • Mini Squats: Start close to the edge of the pool on the shallow end or by a railing if you need assistance of your arms for this exercise to maintain balance. Place your feet shoulder width apart. Sink in your belly button in towards your spine to engage your core. Next, slowly bend at your knees and hips into a mini squat. Think about moving your weight back towards your heels, as this will help to decrease the stress on the knee joints, as well as create a proper engagement of her gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Slow and controlled, especially on the way down into the squat!


  • Shoulder Flys: You can start this exercise either with no weights, or weight light aquatic dumbbells if they are available to you. Place your arms by your sides. Next, bring your arms up and away from your body in an outward “fly” position. Naturally by moving your arms through the resistance of the water, your shoulder muscles as well as other muscles of the arms will be required to overcome this force. Once your arms are in the upward fly position, bring them back down towards your sides, again moving against the resistance of the water. Repeat 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
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