By the end of the study, 48 of 680 men and 93 of 937 women developed osteoarthritis detectable by X-ray. About 10 percent of the women and 8 percent of the men had symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, the researchers found.
These results showed that thigh muscle strength was not a significant predictor of osteoarthritis that was detected via X-ray. However, women with the strongest thighs had a lower incidence of symptomatic, or painful, knee osteoarthritis, Segal's group found.
And since the more painful form of knee arthritis, "is the type of osteoarthritis that brings older adults to health-care providers, this [finding] is important for public health," Segal said.
However, men with strong thigh muscles had only slightly better odds of avoiding painful knee osteoarthritis compared with men with weaker knee extensor strength.
It remains to be seen whether strengthening the thighs might help people avoid arthritic knees, the researchers stressed. "Our study was observational, so interventional studies need to be done to determine whether strengthening exercises for people with weak quadriceps will reduce their risk for developing symptomatic knee osteoarthritis years later," Segal said.
Samantha Heller, an exercise physiologist, said a few simple, low-impact exercises can help people -- even those with osteoarthritis -- strengthen their thighs and knees.
"The exercises that people can do, and tend to do correctly, and can do on their own, are climbing stairs -- up and down," Heller said.
Heller recommends climbing stairs slowly, making the best use of the thigh muscles. "You don't have to run up or down stairs. You can go up and down even one or two steps at a time -- that helps strengthen the leg muscles. Strong le
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