Moderate Activity Best for Knee Cartilage Damage - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on July 09, 2013

Moderate Activity Best for Knee Cartilage Damage

Weekend warriors may have good intentions when trying to squeeze in some exercise at the end of the week, but they could end up doing more harm than good.

A recent study found that both extremely high and low levels of physical activity have the potential to deteriorate the articular cartilage (which is the cushion in your joints) in the knees of middle-aged adults.

If you’re wondering how this can be, we first need to take a look at how healthy joints function.

“Normal, healthy articular cartilage does not have a blood supply,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D., knee surgeon and chief of the Section of an Orthopedic Surgery at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. Instead, it depends on something called synovial fluid to lubricate and nourish the cartilage. The fluid is dispersed as the joint moves. “The way cartilage requires movement for nourishment is almost like a mechanical pump that forces in the fluid it needs.”

And that means you need to prime the pump on a regular basis. For optimal health and durability, the knee requires some level of activity in order to nourish and fortify the cartilage, so not engaging in any type of exercise leaves the cartilage without its source of nutrients, which can weaken the cushion and make it more vulnerable to injury and osteoarthritis. And once cartilage is lost, it’s gone and can’t be recovered. Once there is damage, suddenly engaging in high-impact activities like running or tennis can accelerate wear to the knee cartilage—especially if you’re not providing adequate rest and recovery for your knees or participating in the activity often.

It should be noted that those with higher risk for osteoarthritis, which includes a family history of arthritis or total joint replacement, obesity, or personal history of knee injury or surgery, can also reduce their risk for cartilage degeneration by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding strenuous repetitive high-impact exercise.

“Even a small amount of weight loss can lower your risk of arthritis or prevent it from getting worse,” DiNubile says. Forces are amplified across the knee with every extra pound you carry, so if you’re ten pounds overweight, the knee reads it as fifty to seventy pounds.”

The most important things people can do to prevent a condition from getting worse? Get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Additionally, you should safely engage in moderate physical activity. "Exercise is important for not only your overall health but also for your bones and joints. Even individuals with arthritis benefit from a properly designed exercise program," DiNubile says.

We exercise to improve strength and flexibility, but we need to do it without putting extra stress on our joints, especially those with arthritis or cartilage damage. Core training is a vital part of anyone’s workout, as it helps protect the knees, as does strengthening the muscles about the knees. As far as moderate activity goes, you might want to think about getting involved in one or more of the exercises below:

  • Yoga
  • Walking outside or on a treadmill
  • Riding a stationary bicycle
  • Elliptical training
  • Tai Chi
  • Water-based exercises
  • Swimming
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise

Crozer-Keystone Health System offers comprehensive musculoskeletal care. From conservative approaches to managing pain to spine and hand services, rehabilitation, and joint replacement surgery, the physicians of the Premier/Crozer-Keystone Orthopedics Partnership can help determine what plan works best for you. Appointments within 48 hours; call 1-877-CK-MOTION (1-877-256-6846) or visit

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