People whose knees are affected by osteoarthritis react well to strength training, and even more so if they take the bodybuilding supplement creatine as well. Rheumatologists at the Universidade de Sao Paulo write about the phenomenon in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Strength training & osteoarthritis
Once joints have had so much wear and tear that they don’t function properly anymore, people often stop doing exercise altogether. But inactivity speeds up the process of wear and tear, because the body then starts to break down the muscles and muscle attachments in the legs. And as a result, movement becomes even more painful.
That strength training can be an effective way of combating osteoarthritis is something rheumatologists have known for a long time. And those who say strength training tend to say creatine in the same breath. Which is why the Brazilians wondered whether strength training would help people with osteoarthritis more effectively if combined with creatine supplementation.
The researchers got 24 women – aged between 50 and 65 – with osteoarthritis in their knees to train their legs three times a week using leg extensions, leg presses and squats. The women did 4 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise.
Thirteen women also took creatine. In the first week they took 20 g per day, in the remaining weeks they took 5 g per day. The experiment lasted 12 weeks.
The women’s strength increased by the same amount in each group. The weight with which the women could just manage 1 rep on the leg press increased by 10 kg in the weight training + creatine group, and by 11 kg in the group that did only strength training.
When the researchers looked at how often the subjects could stand up from sitting in a chair repeatedly, they saw progression in the women in the creatine group after 12 weeks. The women in the other group showed no improvement, as the figure below shows.
After 12 weeks the women in the creatine group reported significantly less pain, less stiffness in the knees and better physical functioning. Their Lequesne index went down from 6.3 [‘moderately handicapped’] to 4.7 [‘lightly handicapped’]. While the women in the other group showed a tendency to improve, the effects measured were mostly not significant.
“Creatine supplementation is safe and capable of improving physical function, lower limb lean mass and quality of life in postmenopausal women with knee osteoarthritis undergoing a resistance training program”, the Brazilians conclude. “These findings further support the growing body of evidence favoring the therapeutic application of creatine supplementation, particularly when combined with exercise training.”
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Aug; 43(8): 1538-43.