ARTHRITIS AND EXERCISE
Physical activity is essential to optimizing both mental and physical health. However, even the healthiest people seem to have difficulty committing to a consistent exercise program-and if you have painful joints, physical activity is likely the last thing you want to think about. Many clinical studies have proven that regular exercise affords improvement in joint pain and stiffness and helps maintain joint function.
There are many types of arthritis, but by far the most common is osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes known as degenerative arthritis. This type of arthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joint deteriorates and dries out causing stiffness, loss of motion, swelling and pain. OA can affect any joint, but most commonly occurs in the spine, hips, knees, and hands. When joints become painful, people naturally begin to favor the joints involved and avoid activities that aggravate the pain. If the joints are not exercised consistently and appropriately, all of the symptoms worsen and eventually there is loss of motion and joint deformity occurs.
If you suffer with arthritis, you should pursue a regular exercise program with the following goals in mind: 1) Improved range of motion- you should move the involved joint as far as it can go and then try to push it a little further. This should be done at any time, even when the joints are painful and swollen. Be sure to make the movements gradual and not sudden. 2) Muscle strength- this is accomplished through resistance training using free weights or machines, preferable the latter to avoid injury. Use light resistance and higher repetitions and the last rep should be no more difficult to complete than the first. People that are new to resistance training should seek instruction from a professional before beginning. 3) Improved endurance- this involves aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, and bike riding. Avoid high impact activities such as jogging. An elliptical machine is as excellent form of aerobic activity because all extremities are active without impact on the joints. 4) Better balance and flexibility- consider participating in a yoga or tai-chi class. These programs create body awareness and improve balance, posture, and coordination helping to prevent falls.
Additional tips to be successful with an exercise program include: starting slowly and with simple goals; daily exercise is ideal, but in the beginning, three days per week with intervals of 10-15 minute will suffice; pursuing a program with a partner or in a group typically improves compliance; consult regularly with your healthcare provider - your primary care physician, physical therapist, and/or qualified personal trainer; apply warm (not hot) compresses to the involved joints before activity to improve circulation and cold compresses afterward for anti-inflammatory effects, particularly to hot or swollen joints.
A growing body of evidence shows that regular exercise increases the quality of life universally, but particularly in patients with arthritis. The chronic pain of arthritis can lead to depression and this state of mind decreases a patient’s tolerance to pain. Studies have shown that physical activity is an important psychological adjunct to arthritis treatment and significantly improves mood and underlying depression.
Consult with your healthcare provider and discuss the possibility of obtaining a referral to a physical therapist for more detailed instruction on an exercise program tailored to your specific arthritic problems.
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106 Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com