Study: women with strong thigh muscles have less knee pain from osteoarthritis

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© Véronique Beranger/Corbis

© Véronique Beranger/Corbis

Osteoarthritis of the knee is a leading cause of disability—and discomfort—in older adults, yet while many people may show signs of the condition, not all experience pain as a result. According to a study published in the September 15 issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology, it appears that, while leg strength doesn’t make much difference on the physical signs of osteoarthritis, among women with stronger thigh muscles, pain was reduced.

The study included 3,026 men and women (or 6,052 knees, as the authors point out) between the ages of 50-79. Over the course of a two and a half year study period, the researchers analyzed both leg strength and presence of symptoms for osteoarthritis. At each checkpoint, they also inquired about discomfort or stiffness in the knees. By the end of the study period they found that, while leg strength—or weakness—did not predict prevalence of osteoarthritis symptoms identified by x-ray, that women with the strongest thighs did had lower levels of pain.

What does that mean for you? This was an observational study and additional analysis is needed before researchers can definitively show that increasing leg strength reduces your risk for osteoarthritis pain, but in the meantime, it certainly can’t hurt to do a few extra leg exercises.