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Weight lifting helps knee arthritis patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Strength training can help ease pain and improve physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis of the knee, a new review of current data confirms.

But more study is needed to determine the long-term benefits of resistance training for these patients, Dr. Angela K. Lange of the University of Sydney in Australia and colleagues conclude.

Weak quadriceps muscles and out-of-balance joints can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis of the knee, Lange and her team note in their report. Given that resistance exercise can strengthen these muscles and restore more normal joint mechanics, they add, it should be beneficial to people suffering disability from degeneration in their knee joints.

The researchers reviewed 18 studies including a total of 2,832 patients to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of strength training for osteoarthritis of the knee. Interventions included training with free weights, working out on weight machines, and using Therabands. Most commonly, patients were prescribed three sessions of resistance exercise weekly.

In most of the studies, the researchers found, people showed improvements in pain, physical function, walking speed, and balance after undergoing strength training. The majority of studies used a progressive approach, meaning patients were required to increase the intensity of their exercise as time went on (for example, lifting heavier weights). Three of the four studies that showed no significant effect for strength training did not use this progressive approach.

More information is needed, according to the researchers, on the safety of resistance training for these patients, as well as effects on health related quality of life, psychological outcomes such as depression, and how the disease progresses over time.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, October 15, 2008.

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