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Strengthen Hip Muscles, Lessen Knee Pain

July 17, 2009

"Each time you take a step, a load is placed on the knee joints. How much load depends not just on your weight, but also on the way you walk and the alignment of your leg," said Laura Thorp, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology at Rush Medical College in Chicago. "If we can appropriately alter the gait patterns of patients with osteoarthritis, we can minimize the load and relieve pain.” Thorp is enrolling patients with mild to moderate osteoarthritis in their knees in a research study to determine the effectiveness of certain hip exercises in treating the disease. Most exercise regimens focus on strengthening the quadriceps and hamstring muscles to stabilize the knee joint. For this study, participants spend four weeks working under supervision on exercises to strengthen the hip abductor muscles. In patients with osteoarthritis in the knees, these muscles tend to be weak, causing the pelvis to tilt toward the side of the swing leg when walking, instead of remaining level with the ground, which increases the load on the knee joints. Strengthening these muscles helps the pelvis and the knee remain in better alignment and lessens the load. Participants are reassessed to determine whether the load on the knees has decreased and the pain has subsided, then exercise on their own to see if the adjustments can be maintained. "By lessening the load on the knees, we can remove one of the major known risk factors for the progression of osteoarthritis," Thorp said. “Ultimately, we’re hoping we can prevent the disease from advancing.”