Osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of arthritis, is a progressive disorder caused by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joints. This condition affects the entire joint, including the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and underlying bone. According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 27 million individuals in the United States suffer from some degree of osteoarthritis. It is estimated that about one in two people will develop osteoarthritis during their lifetime.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint and develops gradually over time. It is caused by factors such as aging, obesity, joint injuries, joint deformation, overuse of and stresses on the joint and genetic factors. Typically, the main goal of treatment is to improve overall quality of life by relieving pain and enhancing joint mobility and function. Treatment options may include a combination of medication, physical exercise, and lifestyle modifications.
According to a recent review report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, water or land based exercise should provide short-term benefit in pain management for hip osteoarthritis, though there are few well designed trials testing it.
Researchers at the La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia, reviewed about 19 studies which tested the different types, frequency and duration of physical exercise to determine the best sort of exercise for managing pain associated with osteoarthritis. The studies of water-based, land-based exercise therapy and manual therapy for hip pain included 10 which were designed specifically for hip osteoarthritis. The researchers reported that:
- About 4 studies found that, when compared to minimal pain management, water-based exercise provided short-term benefits up to three months later.
- About six studies found similar benefits for land-based exercise in the short-term. However, there was lack of clear evidence of benefits in the medium or long-term up to one year after therapy.
- Manual therapy including joint manipulation, active stretching and massage did not appear to provide any specific additional benefits on its own or when combined with physical exercise.
Reuters Health reports that the lead researcher said that their review seemed to show that a 12-week program with exercises generally including strengthening and range of motion three times per week is beneficial for hip osteoarthritis.
Commenting on the findings, one expert who was not involved in the study said that despite the widespread support for non-drug approaches, most physicians do not recommend exercise therapy and prescribe pain-relieving drugs for osteoarthritis. Potential barriers to recommendation and treatment include access to care, financial concerns, and the burden of managing multiple medical conditions in a short visit with a provider.
Nevertheless, this review of hip-specific data is useful as it focuses on hip osteoarthritis and differentiates between groups of patients with different forms of the condition. The review confirms what is already widely accepted – that any regular physical activity is likely to be beneficial to most patients, and that most adults do not get enough exercise, which becomes more of an issue among those with osteoarthritis.
Reuters also reports that another expert who was not part of the study said that as the number of studies reviewed was small and varied in terms of methods used, further research is needed confirm the results.