Biking May Be Best for Knee Pain, Arthritis

Folks with arthritis are often told to keep their joints moving for less pain. However, they are rarely given guidance about the best forms of exercise for them. A new study has found that biking — both outdoors and on stationary bicycles — can prevent arthritis and pain in the knees.

People who biked at any point in their lives were 17 percent less likely to develop knee pain and 21 percent less likely to develop arthritis in the knee joint. According to data from more than 2,600 people in their 60s.    

Based on our observational study, bicycling over a lifetime is associated with better knee health, including less knee pain and less damage to the joint,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Grace Lo, chief of rheumatology at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “The more periods of time in life a person spent bicycling, the less likely she or he had knee pain and signs of osteoarthritis.”    

Biking can help build muscle around the knee without the pressure and impact activities like running can have on the joints.

We know that activities that are non-weight bearing are less likely to cause pain,” Lo said. “That’s probably a reason why people have less pain when bicycling as compared to other activities.”

While it seems counterintuitive to move a joint that hurts, using non-jarring motion can be helpful. “Movement of the joint is really important because it drives nutrients into the cartilage,” said Dr. Andrew Gregory, an associate professor of orthopedics neurosurgery and pediatrics at Vanderbilt Univ. Medical Center.

Actions like running that put impact on the joints can be both painful and detrimental to hurting joints. Biking also aids a host of muscles that running doesn’t and can strengthen the hips and glutes.

The people in the study weren’t athletes; they were ordinary people. All of them were at higher risk for knee pain because of factors like weight, old injuries or family history.

Matt Harkey, an assistant professor at Michigan State Univ. and a co-author of the study, echoed Dr. Gregory, explaining that pedaling can help move synovial fluid and “what it does is help to circulate the synovial fluid throughout the joint to help to kind of lubricate [the joint] and provide nutrient delivery to the cartilage.”  

Arthritis cannot be reversed or cured. However, low-impact exercise can help reduce the symptoms. Biking, an exercise where you grow muscle while sitting down, seems to be ideal.  

In addition to helping your joints, riding your bike can help you live longer. People with blood sugar concerns who ride a bike for an hour a week are 22 percent less likely to die prematurely.

If you haven’t biked in the past, or it’s been a long time, you should speak to your doctor. Learning to ride a bike can be dangerous, depending on your age and if you are inclined to fall. Stationary bikes can be great for everyone. But it’s important to be sure the seat and handlebars are at the right height to avoid injury.

Banner image: Brett Sayles via Pexels

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