Take your knees for a spin

Knee osteoarthritis is a painful, degenerative condition that makes walking and climbing stairs difficult...

Knee osteoarthritis is a painful, degenerative condition that makes walking and climbing stairs difficult, as well as many other daily tasks, such as squatting and standing for long periods.

The joint becomes inflamed because of age, previous injury, excessive load on the knees from being overweight, infection or even from lack of use.

While it can occur even in young people, the chance of developing osteoarthritis rises after age 45, with women being more likely to have osteoarthritis than men.

More than 27 million people in the U.S. and Canada have osteoarthritis, with the knee being one of the most commonly affected areas.

Bicycling is a great exercise option for people with osteoarthritis. A regular routine of bicycling keeps your knees moving through their range of motion and at the same time, strengthens the muscles that support your knees.

The main reason that cycling, whether an outdoor or indoor stationary bike, is good for your knees is that when sitting and peddling, the amount of load through the knees is reduced while you ride. This reduces the force and pressure on the knee, thus reducing pain.

When pain is reduced or eliminated, it allows the cyclist to take their knees through a fairly large range of motion, stimulating lubrication (synovial fluid) in the joint, firing muscles and even getting cardiovascular benefits. By lubricating the cartilage and strengthening muscles, this protects the joint and allows more mobility during the rest of the day.

Cycling has always been regarded as a great cardiovascular exercise, but not necessarily as good for strength. However, if a cyclist climbs a lot of hills or rides at higher speeds or sprints, there is a great stimulus for strengthening of leg muscles.

If you doubt this just take a look at the muscular development in the legs of any professional cyclist.

However, an interesting study published in the Journal of Gerontology, compared high-intensity cycling to low-intensity cycling in knee osteoarthritis patients.

Researchers concluded that low-intensity cycling was as effective as high-intensity cycling for improving the patient’s gait, aerobic capacity, overall mobility as well as for decreasing pain. So novices can reap the rewards just as well as advanced cyclists.

For outdoor bicycling, be sure you have a bike that feels comfortable. It is probably a good idea to have the bike professionally set up for your body dimensions.

If bicycling outdoors is a problem because of uneven ground, steep hills, cost or other challenges that come with the great outdoors, why not start bicycling indoors.

Once you get comfortable with riding a stationary bike then you can make the decision whether to stay indoors or buy a bike and get outdoors.

Indoor stationary bikes usually come in two varieties – upright and recumbent. A recumbent stationary bicycle is equipped with a larger, chair-like seat that functions as a back rest for people with back pain.

For people with osteoarthritis, a recumbent stationary bike may make the difference between exercising and not exercising.

Before becoming active with bicycling or any type of exercise, it may be advisable to speak with your doctor or physical therapist.

Consider your different bicycling options. The goal is to make cycling an activity you will enjoy and stick with so that it becomes part of a regular lifestyle change.



Kerry Senchyna is the founder, owner and president of West Coast Kinesiology since 1992 and is a provincially registered kinesiologist (BCAK).


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