View Full Version : Osteoarthritis and Aikido

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10-29-2002, 02:40 PM
Practicing Aikido obviously is very tough on the joints. Does anyone know how much this could affect the onset of osteoarthritis in your later years?


Kevin Wilbanks
10-29-2002, 03:34 PM
I don't think it is a huge worry. So far, distance running has not been shown to cause arthritis in the knees and low back, and that's a lot more pounding than one gets in Aikido.

One thing that may well wear out the joints though is the development of joint laxity, which is a stretching of the ligaments. When this happens, the joint no longer 'fits together tightly' like it should, and the resulting looseness allows for uneven wear on the cartilidge.

The two main ways one is likely to develop joint laxity are:

1) trauma

This could definitely occur when taking a hard or bad fall. The good news is that joints can be significantly strengthened through free weight training, provided the movement mechanics are sound and the load is sufficient to produce a strengthening adaptation.

Weight training also helps prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia (muscle atrophy) into old age, so if you're interested in being able-bodied into your later years, weight training is an all around winner as a prophylactic. Given how commonplace knee and low back problems are, squats and/or deadlift variations in which one squats low enough to get the thighs to parallel with the ground or lower are most important. Add a couple of pressing and pulling movements and you're set.

2) excessive/improper stretching

Passive static stretching can provide a chronic stress that leads to joint laxity, particularly if one stretches into extreme ranges of motion, or with joints "locked out". You're best bet here is to be very conservative about this kind of stretching.

For some reason, passive static stretching is widely regarded as a physical panacea. As far as I can tell, the only legitimate purpose of static stretching is to deform (lengthen) the mechanical elements of the muscle/tendon complex in order to help achieve greater ROM in the target joint. It does little to work on the neural components governing the same ROM, and does not necessarily transfer to active ROM, so even if one has an explicit goal to increase a joint's motion range, it may not address the limiting factor.

As a warmup, it is somewhere between a waste of time and counterproductive. Some studies have shown stretching before a strength test actually decreases performance. As an improver of ROM, stretching only works on a long-term, chronic basis: you cannot achieve increased ROM in one pre-exercise session.

Passive stretching can also increase injury risk by developing a significant gap between active and passive ROM in a joint - once the joint moves into a passive-only range, the muscles can no longer protect themselves by contracting.

The bottom line is, before you undertake a passive stretch, ask yourself if you need more ROM in that joint and why, and whether the stretch part of a specific goal-oriented plan to achieve it. If the answer is no, skip it. Instead, do dynamic, activity specific warmups in which the joints are actively moved through the ROM's that are needed for the desired activity.

10-29-2002, 06:00 PM
Kevin this is really good information. I am really worried about my health in my "later years", I am only 18 now, and I do "hard" aikido practice. I would like to continue doing this type of intensive practice while being smart about it. When you say dynamic stretching, would jogging, jumping rope, slow pushups and situps be more approiate before class and then afterwards cool down stretches?


Kevin Wilbanks
10-29-2002, 09:11 PM
Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but if you're really worried about your future health as a senior at the age of 18, the worry itself is likely your most life-shortening - not to mention quality of life ruining - problem. Relax. Some large-scale catastrophe is likely to bring an end to mammalian life on earth, or, at the very least, human civilization in any recognizable form, long before you make it to that age. Barring that, odds are high that you'll contract some fatal or crippling disease, or be the victim of some untimely and horribly violent misfortune. So, don't waste any of the precious few moments you have worrying about it.

Just in case, though, the warmup you describe is a lot better than a bunch of ill-conceived static stretching exercises. However, it's not exactly what I had in mind by dynamic stretching in a general warmup. Activities like jogging or light rope jumping are great to literally warm you up, but dynamic stretching is more along the lines of arm circles, swinging the limbs through common natural ranges of motion, that hula thing with the hips... The best is when the activity you are preparing for involves some specific ROM and motion that you can perform in a light brisk way in which you gradually move into your fullest range of available motion in that activity - this is why lighter movement-specific warm up sets should always be performed when doing weight training. Since Aikido involves such a wide variety of movements, I like using circles and vertical and horizontal swinging patterns, along with stuff like the two-step, aikido rows, aikido backfall situps, tenkans with loose arms, light falls, etc...

Think of the warmup like an 'overture' to the activity you are going to do. If you're not familiar with the concept of an overture, look into it. (I don't like opera either, but you should at least know enough about it to understand my training analogies.) For instance, with my HIIT workout today I rotated between intervals of rope jumping, fast running, and 'cannonballs'. For my warmup, I started out with a few minutes of the aforementioned limb swings and torso movements. Then, I did three consecutive sets of each activity at about half intensity/speed. Then I started the clock and commenced with the workout - not a static stretch in sight. Maybe you don't do HIIT, but you get the idea. There's nothing mystical or complicated about a proper warm up, it's just a logical way of easing your body into the activity you are about to do.

10-30-2002, 01:06 AM
Hi. First of all, Kevin, thank you for good in depth stuff. As a RN who has been involved with some sports medicine, and an aikidoka who has had surgery and rehab for a torn acl, I have done a lot of reading and talking wtih folks over the past couple of yrs. I agree with you on two major points:

1. too much flexibility can be counterproductive in aikido and

2. warming up as you describe it is very important before training.

I would add a couple of things:

For those of us who are already older, stretching after warm up will not make us overly flexible but is often necessary for us to move! This should not apply to our under-20 inquirer for another 20 years...

Stretching is also useful if a person has pain or decreased mobility due to trigger points in a muscle.

Lastly, on the question of osteoarthritis: There are those who suspect that the pressure on the knee joing during seated technique may create uneven wear and tear and may cause meniscus problems (which also lead to osteoarthritis). I tend to be in that camp (and no, that was not a cause or factor in my acute injury).



Kevin Wilbanks
10-30-2002, 09:10 AM

I tend to agree about suwariwaza and hanmi handachi techniques. I wasn't thinking of that, but that's probably the most suspicious activity in Aikido in terms of long-term wear and tear.

However, I am skeptical about the need for stretching even in the limited cases you have laid out.

In terms of 'trigger points', my understanding is that trying to stretch the muscle while it is in spasm will have no effect. Only after the spasm has been released via injection or deep tissue massage do specific stretching protocols come into play.

As far as post-workout stretching being necessary to maintain ROM, even in older people, I don't think this is true. The only thing necessary for maintaining joint flexibility is to regularly use that range. This use can come in the form of dynamic stretches such as I described for warmup, full ROM resistance exercises, and even sporting/working activities themselves.

In my view, the best flexibility exercises are broad ROM resistance exercises, because they develop not only range of motion, but strength throughout the range. For instance, for the hamstrings, you can't beat Good Mornings, Stiff-leg Deadlifts, or Romanian Deadlifts - in all three similar exercises, you can bend at the hips until you reach your maximum hip flexion ROM, and then the same muscles must contract from that position to get the weight back up. In the meantime, proper form in the exercise requires you to maintain a healthy lumbar concavity under a heavy load (as opposed to hurdler's stretch where the lumbar joints are usually passively pulled on in an extreme convex curve), and one is required to balance on the feet. The exercise also has joint and bone strengthening benefits.

Many other compound freeweight movements have similar benefits, especially the squat and parallel grip/trap bar deadlift.

Jonathan Lewis
10-30-2002, 02:53 PM
Kevin seems to know what he is talking about.

Read his post carefully however:

1) Note that it is not too much flexibility that can create problems, but rather "joint laxity", or for practical purposes, flexibility without the attendant strength over the full range of motion.

2) Don't get the idea from these posts that flexibility is not important. That's not what they say. Range of motion, and especially ROM under muscular stress, is quite important to Aikido practice both in terms of performance and maintaining health.

2a) you never move as freely at the edges of your range of motion, so you need to have more range of motion than is actually required for a particular movement if you wish to be able to apply it in as relaxed a manner as possible.

2b) Serious injury occurs not so much under the normally required range of motion as during those rare times when that range is accidentally exceeded. (Think of a motorcycle racer, he doesn't really need that much strength and flexibility to perform well until that crash happens and the arms and legs go in 4 different directions with 4 different vectors of spin. he needs both the flexibility to handle range of motion that WILL occur, and the strength to hold his joints, tendons and muscle fibers together. The same kind of thing can happen in a bad throw or fall.)

The one thing stated that I do disagree with is that there is really no need to think about it at the age of 18. That is exactly the time to think about it. Yes, you should not stress out, but you should think about it. This is the easiest time to build good habits. Bumps and bruises that you shake off, ignore and forget about while young, WILL come back to haunt you if you live long enough, especially if you do not have good workout habits that allow them to heal properly.

I would like to add that, with everything else in order, light passive stretching either before or after exercise or warm-ups does have some benefits regardless of flexibility. It is a good way to check your body for proper functioning and priopriesence.

Janet Rosen
10-30-2002, 03:40 PM
Hi all.

Re: trigger points. The best solution several of us have come up with (injections and cold sprays are not an option for lay people) is direct pressure to the trigger point followed by full stretching. If somebody is available to assist with proprioceptive neuro. facilitation type stretching, its best, but doing a good slow stretch solo definitely works. We have done this on ourselves and on many subjects at aikido-l seminars. It is quite effective.

I have chronically tight hamstrings. No amount of range of motion or quads treatment does a thing for them; they need slow full stretches.



Kevin Wilbanks
10-30-2002, 04:43 PM
Joint laxity is not the same as having more passive than active ROM. Joint laxity, at least the way I'm using it, refers only to joints in which the ligaments are stretched, and the joint itself is loose. This occurs as a result of traumatic injury, stretching in such a way that the stress is being applied to ligaments/joint capsules, rather then muscle/tendon structures, or, in the case of the lumbar spinal joints, chronic bad sitting habits, which tends to cause herniated discs, which is a similar situation.

A big difference between active and passive ROM in a joint is different, and probably a less serious risk/problem. As far as taking a bad fall or absorbing a potentially injurious force with the body, I think strength and the ability to yeild with the whole body in coordination is much more important than flexibility - in fact, that's what ukemi is all about: keeping your body in a safe shape while yielding to force.

Also, I didn't say one should not consider preventative conditioning at a young age, only that one should not be 'really worried' about it. In fact, research is now showing that there is an age window around pubescence in which one can build up peak bone density that can be of more long term use in preventing osteoporosis than any efforts undertaken in subsequent years. It's almost never too early to start building good exercise/conditioning habits.


Have you tried a regular regimen of Romanian/Stiff-Leg Deadlifts with moderately heavy weight, gradually easing into a greater ROM both over the course of the workout reps and from workout to workout over time? Also, are you sure you need the ROM that you think you need - leading to the judgement that the hams are tight? I have never had impressive ROM in my hips with the knee extended, and it has never caused me any problems... except when I became preoccupied with trying to lenghten them via static stretching, which has caused nerve impingement/tingling in the hamstring and foot.

Jonathan Lewis
10-30-2002, 05:48 PM
So long as wwe are all in agreement.

(except about the bad fall thing, 'cause I think that times when you cannot keep your body in the correct shape can happen, like when someone grabs your foot halfway through a breakfall and moves it in the opposite direction)

Janet Rosen
10-30-2002, 06:33 PM
Hi, Kevin.

I have no idea what Romanian/Stiff-Leg Deadlifts are--if you know of a url covering it feel free to email it to me at brooklynbudobabe@yahoo.com

In terms of the hamstrings, I have slowly been losing the normal lumbar curve and it has coincided with the development of hamstring trigger points, leading a couple of myofascial trigger point folks, and me, to believe thathamstrings are so tight that they are causing pelvis to tilt and low back to flatten (just as too tight quads, common in ballet dancers, will cause it to arch and their butts to stick out)

I agree with you that support muscle strength -- and correct use of muscles, ie plyometric training -- is a key injury prevention strategy, along with learning to relax.



Kevin Wilbanks
10-30-2002, 07:39 PM
Here's a Romanian Deadlift:


They're calling it something slightly different because their site has another Stiff Leg Deadlift in which they allow the low back to flex at the bottom - I call that version 'How not to do this exercise'.

Also, working toward the full squat - while maintaining proper lordotic lumbar curve - will increase the functional hip flexion range with the knee bent:


You can also get a similar benefit from doing the 'trap bar deadlift'. It requires buying a special bar, but it's much safer for solo workouts, and more comfortable on the shoulders (and much cheaper than a power rack).


Increasing ROM in any of these exercises is easy. Start with a light weight and do whatever range you can while maintaining proper form... don't guess, be sure: use visual feedback in the form of a training partner to cue when you're losing it, or video equipment. Do a few sets with fairly high reps 2 or 3 times per week. Gradually and gently attempt to get a little more ROM all along - 'sitting' at the bottom of each movement for a few seconds during a few reps can also help. As you get comfortable, increase the weight too, doing 2 or 3 warm up sets - starting with half weight and escalating up to full weight for 1 or 2 sets.

I think doing both a sqatting and forward bending exercise is the best thing you can do for all of the concerns we have mentioned here: back and knee joint health, bone density, muscle strength, functional ROM... I am especially keen on the squat/tbdl because it helps program a healthy movement pattern into the body for squatting down and picking up objects from the ground.


I am skeptical about the tight hamstring/pelvic tilt theory. Unless your hams are so tight that you cannot move your leg forward at the hip from standing (in which case you couldn't walk), it doesn't jibe. I know a lot of PTs and purported bodywork experts think in those isolationist/muscle balance terms, but I think you would be better served by finding people who use a different paradigm.

Postural habits are exactly that: habitual neurological holding patterns. Transformation of posture is rarely effected by therapies or exercises, except insofar as they help teach you what a new, better holding pattern feels like. The transformation itself occurs as a process of accumulating instances of conscious self-correction throughout daily life.

I think a situation like a disappearing lumbar curve or a collapsing arch has a lot more to do with laziness in the muscles that are supposed to be contracting to maintain the desired pattern than 'tightness' in those on the opposing side. If the right muscles were strong and doing their job, the other muscles would have no opportunity to develop habitual 'tightness'.

I have used yoga to help make some major changes in my posture - including permanently changing the alignment of one hip and rebuilding a nearly flat arch in one foot. The yoga exercises, however, were primarily just cues, guides to what new holding patterns felt like. The real change was a matter of repeatedly correcting myself day in and day out to an almost obsessive extent. Eventually, the new pattern becomes comfortable and it can recede from consciousness.

10-31-2002, 10:04 AM
Now here is a topic I'm all too familiar with. I suffer from osteoarthritis in my back at the ripe old age of 38. This diagnosis has been made on two seperate ocassions by different doctors. The million dollar question now is, how did it come to be.

I think it has a lot to do with many many years of very hard training and improper ukemi suffered at the hands of the Judo students we used to play with. There variation of Osoto Gari put you flat on your back, very hard. Insert years of BAD POSTURE, read slouching in chairs, driving position, etc, lifting heavy objects with no thought to the undo stress being put on your back and you've got the right formula for O.A.

Things I have done to ease the pain that have worked is 1) fix my seating habits at work. Ergonomics is a key factor. Chair, keyboar and monitor heights, etc. 2) Massage therapy every couple of months. The gal I see has great hands, nice and strong, and she also uses these hot rock thingy's. Because of my tolerance to pain, she can do deep tissue massage and really work me good. Not sure exactly what she's doing but whatever it is, it works wonders. 3) Fix ukemi. Many many ways to do this and 4) don't let the judo-ka hammer me the way they did.

So, my advise to you is to keep your back healthy by doing the things described previously and to be very contious about your posture and the way you lift things. And for the record, I still take lots of ukemi for my students and teachers. I haven't let it slow me down. It's all about understanding the problem and taking proper care.

Regards ...

10-31-2002, 12:31 PM
Shihonage is deadly for the lower back if uked improperly. I think the key is to keep your abs flexed or not let your upper body go below the torso. I used to curve my back a lot and get down low (trying to be a good uke) and because of this I started to get headaches and a sore lower back. Ever since I changed this the headaches went away and my lower back felt better.

Bruce Baker
10-31-2002, 06:26 PM
Seriously, unless you totally eat the wrong foods, beat your body up more than it heals, and stress out at every little thing, the chances of getting osteoarthritus is very slim unless it is inherent in your family and your genetic structure.

Even then, there are many ways to ward off the worst effects, as my mother at 75 years old is finding the right balance of diet and medications has greatly eased this condition in her. On the other hand, when you reach 55 and over there is bound to be some deterioration which has to be accepted with the passage of time?

My teacher at 72 years old is still doing class with other students when one of the other two teachers is teaching. Not everyone ages the same or has the same health as they grow older, but everyone seems to agree that exercise is one of the key ingrediants to better health with growing old. After wrestling, grappling, karate, judo, jujitsu ... I find that Aikido has the widest band of modification for practice. Properly applied, Aikido can be practiced until the day you die ... hopefully at a very old age.

I say, I would rather die very old ... feeling healthy, than have a long sickness that eats away at your everyday life.

Apply safe practice techniques, eat right, take care of your body when it is injured, and the chances of a long healthy life are greatly extended.


You thought your mother was kidding about eating and sleeping right?

10-31-2002, 10:18 PM
Osteoarthritis is not hereditary, nor is rheumatoid arthritis contrary to popular belief. Osteoarthritis is a wear and tear desease that becomes noticeable in late middle age to early old age. It is particularily common in people whos joints are subjected to routine over use, such as manual labourers, athletes, and martial artists. It mainly affects the spine, hips, hands, and knees.