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No Pain, No Gain for Arthritis Patients


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Aug. 28, 2002 -- The old exercise adage, "no pain, no gain," may be especially true for people who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. New research shows the pain these people experience after exercise is only temporary, but the benefits are not.

"Explaining to patients that the increased pain they feel right after exercising isn't long-lasting --and helping them cope with that temporary increase -- may help them stick with an exercise program long enough to obtain [a] long-term reduction in pain," says researcher Brian C. Focht, PhD, of East Carolina State University, in a news release.

Nearly 16 million men and women in the U.S. suffer from the joint pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis (OA). Because there is no cure, researchers say treatments focus on slowing the disease's progression and minimizing its impact on sufferers' daily lives.

Regular exercise, such as brisk walking, has already been shown to reduce pain and improve flexibility in people with OA of the knee. But convincing people with OA to start and stick with an exercise program that might initially cause them more pain is difficult.

Focht says his study may help people with knee osteoarthritis get over this "pain hump" by proving that the increased pain following exercise is short-lived.

In the study, Focht and colleagues monitored pain levels among 32 men and women over 60 who had osteoarthritis in one or both knees and were overweight or obese. Researchers say people who are overweight or obese are more likely to report that OA has a negative effect on their quality of life.

The participants reported their pain levels throughout the day over a period of six days. Every other day, the men and women engaged in a one-hour of exercise that consisted of walking at 50-70% of their maximum heart rate along with weight training.

Researchers found pain spiked immediately after these mid-afternoon exercise sessions, but it abated by evening. In addition, pain levels reported by the participants were significantly lower the following day compared with immediately after exercise.

Since exercise has proven to not only reduce pain but improve psychological well-being over the long-term in people with knee OA, Focht says it's important to not let initial exercise-related pain discourage further exercise.

The study appears in the August issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

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