Benefits of walking for knee pain; acupuncture for chronic headaches; vitamin D for dementia
August 1, 2022 | View PDF
Walking away from knee pain
It may be possible to combat knee pain with just a few walks around the block. A new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology is suggesting that walking for exercise can reduce new frequent knee pain among adults age 50 and older diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis is the most common form of arthritis. The study found that walking for exercise may be an effective treatment to slow the damage that occurs within the joint.
“Until this finding, there has been a lack of credible treatments that provide benefit for both limiting damage and pain in osteoarthritis,” said study investigator Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo, who is an assistant professor of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
The researchers examined the results of the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multiyear observational study where participants self-reported the amount of time and frequency they walked for exercise. Participants who reported 10 or more instances of exercise from the age of 50 years or later were classified as “walkers” and those who reported less were classified as “non-walkers.” Those who reported walking for exercise had 40% decreased odds of new frequent knee pain compared to non-walkers.
“These findings are particularly useful for people who have radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis but don’t have pain every day in their knees,” said Dr. Lo. “This study supports the possibility that walking for exercise can help to prevent the onset of daily knee pain. It might also slow down the worsening of damage inside the joint from osteoarthritis.”
Walking on a regular basis also offers added health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health and decreased risk of obesity, diabetes and some cancers. Walking for exercise is a free activity with minimal side effects, unlike medications, which often come with a substantial price tag and possibility of side effects.
“People diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis should walk for exercise, particularly if they do not have daily knee pain,” advises Lo. “If you already have daily knee pain, there still might be a benefit, especially if you have the kind of arthritis where your knees are bow-legged.”
Combating headache pain with acupuncture
Acupuncture may reduce headaches for people who have chronic tension-type headaches, according to a study published in the medical journal Neurology. Tension-type headaches most often involve a pressing or tightening feeling on both sides of the head with mild to moderate intensity. These headaches are not worsened by physical activity, and do not include nausea.
Tension-type headaches are considered chronic when they occur at least 15 days per month. “Tension-type headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and people who have a lot of these headaches may be looking for alternatives to medication,” said study author Dr. Ying Li, of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Chengdu, China. “Our study found that acupuncture reduces the average number of headache days per month for those struggling with these painful and disruptive headache attacks.”
The study involved 218 people who were diagnosed with chronic tension-type headaches. They had chronic tension-type headaches for an average of 11 years and had 22 days per month with headaches on average. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either true acupuncture or superficial acupuncture. Both groups received two or three sessions per week for two months and were followed for an additional six months. The main result measured in the study was a reduction of at least 50% in the number of days with headaches. All participants had clinic visits every four weeks. They also used headache diaries to record their symptoms and use of medications.
Researchers found the number of monthly headache days gradually decreased after treatment, in both those who received true acupuncture treatments and superficial acupuncture treatments. For those who received true acupuncture, headache days decreased from 20 days per month at the beginning of the study to seven days per month by the end of the study. For those who received superficial acupuncture, headache days decreased from 23 days per month at the beginning of the study to 12 days per month at the end of the study.
“While this study showed that acupuncture can reduce headaches, more research is needed to determine the longer-term effectiveness of acupuncture and how it compares to other treatment options,” said Dr. Li. “In comparing treatment options, cost-effectiveness is another important factor to evaluate.”
Preventing dementia with vitamin D
Boosting vitamin D levels may be a novel way to prevent dementia in a high number of older adults. Researchers at the University of South Australia investigated the association between vitamin D, neuroimaging features, and the risk of dementia and stroke, and found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with lower brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia. Additionally, stroke genetic analyses supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia. Based on these new study findings the researchers estimate that in some populations as much as 17% of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing everyone to normal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L).
The study analyzed data from 294,514 participants and it is the first to examine the effect of very low levels of vitamin D on the risks of dementia and stroke using robust genetic analyses among a large population.
“Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that is increasingly recognized for widespread effects, including on brain health, but until now it has been very difficult to examine what would happen if we were able to prevent vitamin D deficiency,” said study senior investigator Elina Hyppönen who is the Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia.
Because vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, these new findings have important implications for dementia risks.
“Dementia is a progressive and debilitating disease that can devastate individuals and families alike,” said Hyppönen. “If we’re able to change this reality through ensuring that none of us is severely vitamin D deficient, it would also have further benefits and we could change the health and wellbeing for thousands.”
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.