If you suffer from osteoarthritis, you might be able to prevent further damage to your cartilage through physical therapy and exercise. This was one of the findings of researchers at Queen Mary University of London that appeared in the journal “Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.”

Exercise and Cartilage

For the first time, researchers were able to demonstrate how exercise creates anti-inflammatory effects that benefit cartilage. When you exercise, the cartilage in your joints, such as your knees, is compressed. Cells in the cartilage perceive this and stop the inflammation.

The Role of HDAC6

There are small structures like hair on the cartilage cells, only tiny fractions of a millimeter in size, called primary cilia. Inflammation causes these primary cilia to elongate. Researchers found that exercise triggers a protein called HDAC6. In turn, HDAC6 changes the proteins of the primary cilia and prevents elongation and inflammation. When people took medication that prevented the activation of the HDAC6 protein, physical activity did not lead to anti-inflammatory effects. However, it was also possible to take medication that activated the HDAC6 protein in the same way.

A New Therapy

Su Fu, a doctoral student and one of the authors of the study, said that while it is known that exercise is a healthy habit, this research showed why it helps keep cartilage healthy as well. The study’s lead researcher said the findings may also explain why normal blood flow has anti-inflammatory effects. The researchers hope that their findings will help people with arthritis pain management. Eventually, medication may be developed that reduces inflammation in the same way that exercise does. Pain management and prevention of further cartilage deterioration might also be possible through physical therapy and gentle exercises designed to stimulate the activity of the HDAC6 protein without causing unnecessary stress to joints.