“Arthritis” literally means joint inflammation. This condition may cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and other supporting structures. Some types of arthritis are a result of connective tissue degeneration while others are described as autoimmune diseases. There are many types of arthritis — osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, etc.
How is it treated?
Treatment has to be tailored to individual needs, lifestyle and health. It has four main goals.
To control pain through prescribed medicines and other therapies.
To improve joint care through rest and gentle exercise.
To maintain an acceptable body weight.
To achieve a healthy lifestyle.
What kind of exercise is best for those with arthritis?
The commonest mistake is avoidance of exercise. This, in time, leads to more stiffness, reduced strength and compromised cardiovascular fitness. Inactivity further weakens the body, leading to a vicious cycle that accelerates de-conditioning of the body.
Always consult your physician for specific exercise recommendations.
Stretch every day
The most important exercises are stretching exercises to preserve range of motion and flexibility around each joint. Even inflamed joints can be put through a gentle stretch routine with the assistance of a therapist.
Strength training exercises using lightweights is an excellent way to build bone strength. Isometric strength exercises are often used to strengthen joints. Do these exercises only when pain and joint inflammation are under control.
Low impact cardio exercise
In the past, treatment of arthritis excluded aerobic exercise for fear of increasing joint pain. Aerobic exercise is however, safe and effective when the joint inflammation is not acute. Low impact cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, cycling and walking are wonderful ways to improve fitness.
Recreational exercises such as golf and gardening improve both fitness and the state of mind.
Swimming/ aqua exercises
Swimming is probably the closest you can get to a perfect form of exercise. It is a non-weight bearing activity and places little stress on the joints. That is why working out in the water is a great exercise for those who have arthritis, back or joint pains. The combination of buoyancy and resistance of the water makes this sport ideal for working out without the risk of injury. It tones the entire body while providing an excellent cardiovascular workout.
Begin slowly and progress gradually. The hallmark of a safe exercise programme is gradual progression in exercise intensity, complexity of movements and duration.
Avoid rapid or repetitive movements of affected joints. Special emphasis should be placed on joint protection strategies and avoidance of activities that require rapid repetitions. For example, faster walking speeds increase joint stress, walking speed should be matched to biomechanical status.
Adapt physical activity to the needs of the individual. Affected joints may be unstable and restricted in range of motion by pain, stiffness, swelling, bone changes or fibrosis. These joints are at higher risk for injury and care must be taken to ensure that appropriate joint protection measures are in place.
Some Pain Relief Methods
There are known methods to help ease pain for short periods of time. This temporary relief can make it easier for those who have arthritis to exercise. The doctor or physical therapist can suggest a method that is best suited for each condition. Moist heat supplied by warm towels, hot packs, a bath, or a shower can be used at home for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day to relieve symptoms.
A health professional can use short waves, microwaves and ultrasound to deliver deep heat to non-inflamed joint areas. Deep heat is not recommended for patients with acutely-inflamed joints. Cold supplied by a bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel helps stop pain and reduce swelling when used for 10 to 15 minutes, at a time. It is often used for acutely inflamed joints. People who have Raynaud's phenomenon should not use this method.
Hydrotherapy can decrease pain and stiffness. Exercising in a large pool may be easier because water takes some weight off painful joints. Mobilisation therapies include traction (gentle, steady pulling), massage and manipulation (using the hands to restore normal movement to stiff joints). When done by a trained professional, these methods can help control pain and increase joint motion and muscle and tendon flexibility.
Simple self-help measures
Carrying extra body weight puts added pressure on the joints. So get on a healthy diet to lose those extra pounds.
Get the right kind of footwear. Well-fitting supportive shoes increases comfort and safety while walking.
Learn to listen to the body's signals. Know when to stop or slow down movement. Pain can increase by over-use or oversight.