Weight training and cardiovascular exercise may be just the ticket for patients who are preparing for knee- or hip- replacement surgery, a new study suggests.
Those patients who took part in one-hour exercise regimens just three times a week were 73% less likely to be discharged to a rehabilitation center after their surgery, researchers found.
Only 12 of 36 patients who took part in the exercise had to enter the rehab centers, compared with 23 of 43 patients who didn't exercise, said study author Daniel Rooks, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
While the study is small, Rooks said, "The benefits of exercise before surgery are very clear. The more you can do for yourself physically before surgery, the better off you are."
It's no secret that physically fit people are better able to tolerate osteoarthritis, Rooks said. "Their muscles and soft tissues are stronger and better conditioned, which helps stabilize the knee, protect the joints and allow people with arthritis to move with less discomfort." But it was unclear how much value exercise provides to people with severe arthritis who face surgery.
Rooks and his colleagues enlisted patients who were preparing for either hip- or knee-replacement surgery and divided them into two groups. One group took part in one-hour group exercise regimens three times a week at a hospital-affiliated fitness center. At first, participants performed water exercises. Then they moved on to stationary bikes, weight lifting (with both machines and dumbbells) and abdominal strengthening exercises. They also stretched.
Even in a fairly brief time period—six weeks—the exercise paid benefits for the participants. "We saw that their level of function stabilized and their pain stabilized prior to surgery," Rooks said. "Those who did not exercise, their function and pain got worse."
Six weeks isn't enough time to boost muscle strength by major amounts, Rooks said. But, he added, it's possible that some of the benefits came because participants "were just feeling more confident and comfortable that they could exert themselves without hurting themselves."
Ultimately, the study shows that "just because you have arthritis doesn't mean you should not exercise, and if you have arthritis, it's another reason you should begin exercising or keep exercising," Rooks said.