Aim: This paper reports a study of the effects of aquatic exercise on physical fitness (flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness), self-reported physical functioning and pain in adults with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee.
Background: Osteoarthritis is a common cause of disability and a primary reason for hip and knee joint replacement. Exercise is important for preventing and/or managing the functional limitations associated with joint disease. Aquatic exercise is thought to be beneficial and is often recommended for people with osteoarthritis; however, few studies have examined the effects on people with osteoarthritis, and these have yielded inconsistent results.
Methods: A two-group randomized controlled trial with a convenience sample was used. Participants were recruited from community sources and randomly assigned to a 12-week aquatic programme or a non-exercise control condition. Data for 38 participants were collected at baseline, week 6, and week 12 during 2003 and 2004. Instruments were a standard plastic goniometer, a handheld dynamometer, the 6-minute walk test, the multidimensional Health Assessment Questionnaire, and a visual analogue scale for pain.
Results: Repeated measures analysis of variance showed that aquatic exercise statistically significantly improved knee and hip flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness, but had no effect on self-reported physical functioning and pain. The exercise adherence rate was 81.7%, and no exercise-related adverse effect was observed or reported.
Conclusions: Beneficial short-term effects of aquatic exercise were found in adults with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee. Although the programme may not offer pain relief or self-reported improvements in physical functioning, results suggest that aquatic exercise does not worsen the joint condition or result in injury. Nurses engaging in disease management and health promotion for these patients should consider recommending or implementing aquatic classes for patients.