Harvard Women's Health Watch

Exercise: Rx for overcoming osteoarthritis

Exercising may be the last thing you want to do when your joints are stiff and achy. But it's crucial for easing pain and staying active.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by loss of the cartilage that covers and protects the ends of the bones where they meet at a joint. Without this protective coating, bone rubs against bone, causing irritation and inflammation. The result is pain and stiffness in the joint and often pain in the muscles and ligaments that surround it.

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than 22 million adults. Nearly equal numbers of women and men have the condition, but women tend to develop symptoms after age 55, about 10 years later than men do. It most often affects the hips, knees, spine, and hands.

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