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Hip exercises help osteoarthritis patients

December 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Osteoarthritis affects 27-million Americans. It costs the U.S. economy nearly $128 billion every year in medical care, lost wages and productivity. Right now, the only real cure is a joint replacement. Doctors are trying to change that by making a change in the way patients walk. One woman is feeling the difference in every step. Getting a knee replacement looked like Dana Glock's only option after suffering for years from osteoarthritis. Injections, anti-inflammatory drugs, creams and knee braces all failed.

"It is very painful. It definitely limits your activity," said Glock.

She joined a study not for a new drug or surgery, but to heal her osteoarthritis by changing the way she walks.

"We're really hoping to make subtle changes in alignment of the lower limb," said Dr. Laura Thorp from Rush University Medical Center.

It starts with a set of exercises that focus on the hip muscles. Fifteen minutes a day over four weeks slowly changed the way Glock distributes weight when she walks. The exercises help straighten her hips. The idea is to relieve the load on the knees.

"By retraining muscles through these exercises, it's sort of an unconscious retraining of gait," said Dr. Thorp.

Dr. Thorp measures Glock's progress in a motion lab.

In a study, patients saw the load on their knees decrease by 10-percent after one month. This used to be one of Glock's biggest fears.

"Now, when I'm walking, it's totally different," said Glock.

It's giving her a new stride and new confidence without surgery.

Dr. Thorp says the routine isn't a replacement for surgery, but she hopes it can be an intervention that can delay the need for an operation.

Once her study is complete, she hopes to publish exercise guidelines for those on the road to joint replacements.


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