Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis

J Rheumatol. 2016 Mar;43(3):666-72. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.151110. Epub 2016 Jan 15.


Objective: Arthritis and its associated joint pain act as significant barriers for adults attempting to perform land-based physical activity. Swimming can be an ideal form of exercise for patients with arthritis. Yet there is no information on the efficacy of regular swimming exercise involving patients with arthritis. The effect of a swimming exercise intervention on joint pain, stiffness, and physical function was evaluated in patients with osteoarthritis (OA).

Methods: Using a randomized study design, 48 sedentary middle-aged and older adults with OA underwent 3 months of either swimming or cycling exercise training. Supervised exercise training was performed for 45 min/day, 3 days/week at 60-70% heart rate reserve for 12 weeks. The Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index was used to measure joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitation.

Results: After the exercise interventions, there were significant reductions in joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitation accompanied by increases in quality of life in both groups (all p < 0.05). Functional capacity as assessed by maximal handgrip strength, isokinetic knee extension and flexion power (15-30% increases), and the distance covered in the 6-min walk test increased (all p < 0.05) in both exercise groups. No differences were observed in the magnitude of improvements between swimming and cycling training.

Conclusion: Regular swimming exercise reduced joint pain and stiffness associated with OA and improved muscle strength and functional capacity in middle-aged and older adults with OA. Additionally, the benefits of swimming exercise were similar to the more frequently prescribed land-based cycling training.

Trial registration: NCT01836380.


Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Bicycling*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / physiopathology
  • Osteoarthritis / therapy*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Quality of Life
  • Swimming*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data