Exploring tele-exercise for older adults with knee arthritis – UW Medicine

Researchers are finding that older adults with knee arthritis pain can and will participate from their homes in online exercise classes. Providing such classes online can remove some barriers to receiving evidence-based treatment.

Kushang Patel, a research professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, is recruiting adults 65 and older with knee osteoarthritis to further study tele-exercise in this rapidly growing population. More than half of older adults live with chronic pain. Exercise helps reduce symptoms as well as manage more than 25 other chronic conditions.

“One of the first-line treatments for knee osteoarthritis is physical activity,” said Patel, who is also an associate director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center. “There’s plenty of evidence showing the benefits of exercise, including preventing falls. And studies show that older adults do engage in exercise when they’re offered instructor-led classes. But when the study ends, many return to a sedentary lifestyle.”

Pain often interferes with physical activity and leads to muscle weakness and deconditioning. But pain isn’t the only barrier to exercise. The COVID-19 pandemic kept people from attending in-person exercise programs and continues to create difficulties for those living in elder care settings. 

Older people who live in rural areas also have trouble accessing this type of remedy. Patel and his colleagues converted Enhance Fitness, a widely shared exercise program co-developed by UW Medicine, for online streaming. They have found that this tele-exercise program, which includes live instructors and group participation, is a strong solution for both issues.

“It’s group-based and it’s live, so people join from their homes and exercise together with an instructor who’s leading classes and providing feedback to the participants,” Patel said. 

The researchers will examine the program’s effectiveness through a National Institutes of Health-funded study, which will also incorporate classes on healthy aging and behavioral health. The study will divide participants into two groups to evaluate which classes, in combination with Enhance Fitness tele-exercise, improve knee pain and function long-term. 

To volunteer for the study, contact the PACIFIC Study at 206-685-2082 or email [email protected].

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