Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease characterized by joint pain, tenderness, and limitation of movement. At present, no cure is available, so only treatment focused on symptoms or on preventing further development of the disease are possible. Aquatic exercise is physical exercises taking place while the participant is immersed in water, typically water with a temperature between 32°C to 36°C.
A team of Cochrane authors based in Denmark and Norway worked with Cochrane Musculoskeletal to investigate the effects of aquatic exercise for people with knee or hip osteoarthritis, or both. The Cochrane Review includes 13 trials with a total of 1190 participants. The authors rated the evidence to be of moderate quality. Most participants were female, with an average age of 68 years. Osteoarthritis duration was 6.7 years, with a great variation of the included participants.
A treatment course was up to 12 weeks of aquatic exercise. Those who completed an aquatic exercise programme rated their pain and disability afterwards as five points lower on a 0 to 100 scale compared with people who did not receive aquatic exercise. They also rated their quality of life as seven points higher on a 0 to 100 scale. There were no serious side effects reported with relation to participating in aquatic exercise.
“Aquatic exercise for people with knee and hip osteoarthritis will probably improve pain, disability slightly, and may improve quality of life slightly immediately after completion of a treatment course, ” said Else Marie Bartels, the lead author of the Cochrane Review. “Given that there were no serious side effects and that there is currently no cure available for osteoarthritis, trying out an aquatic exercise program in addition to regular care may be an option for clinicians to recommend and for patients to consider."