Arthritis is a disease that affects the body’s joints, causing severe pain and stiffness in sufferers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 50 million Americans that suffer from one of the dozens of types of arthritis, meaning that it is one of the most prevalent forms of disease in American society. Given the fact that arthritis causes severe pain and stiffness in the joints, exercise is often one of the last things that sufferers consider as a mode of treatment and pain management, yet physical activity is one of the most beneficial means of reducing these symptoms.
Exercise helps sufferers in several important ways including increasing flexibility of the muscles, increasing the range of motion in joints, and increasing the strength of the muscles that support the joints. One of the biggest issues associated with arthritis is decreased mobility due to the stiffness and pain it causes. Inactivity will actually exacerbate these symptoms, thereby making exercise all the more important. By actively working to increase both flexibility and range of motion, sufferers can begin to counteract the effects of the disease. By strengthening those muscles that surround the joints, a person can reduce the amount of impact on the joints that occurs from daily activities such as walking. In addition to increasing flexibility, reducing stiffness and pain, and strengthening the muscles, exercise can also help with weight management. By maintaining a healthy body weight, there is less stress placed on the joints due to excessive weight.
Another common issue associated with this disease is fatigue. Having a regular exercise routine is one of the simplest and most effective means of treating general fatigue, and it is recommended that arthritis sufferers follow the American Heart Association’s general guidelines for exercise: 30 minutes of exercise a day, 5 days per week. The Arthritis Foundation has several different group exercise programs available in many communities nationwide, and these programs and locations are listed on their website. Arthritis sufferers should focus on exercises that target increased range of motion such as gentle yoga, strength building including weight and resistance training, and low impact aerobic activities such as walking or swimming. Water exercise programs, such as water aerobics, are available at many fitness and recreation centers that have a pool. Water exercise a great alternative to traditional aerobics and group classes for arthritis sufferers, and can actually burn more calories than the same exercises being performed out of the water.
Some other tips to consider include applying heat to the affected joints prior to exercising. Heat actually helps to loosen the muscles and joints and can help with relieving some of the pain that is present. Use a heating pad or other heating device for approximately 20 minutes before beginning the physical activity. While exercising, remember to move slowly and avoid jerky and fast movements that could potentially lead to more pain in the affected joints. Lastly, applying ice to the affected joints after exercise can help reduce swelling and pain. Icing also can prevent some of the negative effects associated with inflammation and decrease recovery time.
Prior to beginning any exercise program, it is important to check with your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional to make certain that there are no serious health risks present.
In Wellness and Love,
Dr. Christopher Weaver DC, PAK is a Doctor of Chiropractic and Professional Applied Kinesiologist. He's published two books on health and Wellness.