“I can’t hike anymore because of my arthritis.” “I can’t bike anymore because of my arthritis.” “My arthritis is so bad I can’t play with my grandkids.” These are all statements I have heard from clients over the last decade of being a physical therapist. Is this true or is this fiction? Many people acquire a diagnosis like “arthritis” and they are either told or they assume they should stop being active because of their new diagnosis. As a movement specialist and as a licensed physical therapist, I would like to inform and educate those of you living with arthritis so you can be active!
The definition of arthritis is inflammation in one or more joints. Common symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. There are many different types of arthritis but for the purposes of today’s conversation, we are going to talk about the most common form which is osteoarthritis. According to the arthritis foundation, osteoarthritis affects over 27 million Americans and is most often seen in knees, hips, low back, neck, thumbs, and big toes. Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease and is defined as the gradual loss of cartilage in the joints and can result in bone spurs or cysts in the joints. Cartilage is the firm, rubbery material that covers the end of the bones in normal joints. Its main function is to act as a shock absorber and help reduce friction in the joints. As you can imagine, if you begin to lose the cartilage in the joints, they can become inflamed and stiffness sets in because the cartilage is no longer able to help absorb stress and reduce friction. If you let the stiffness settle into the joints, you begin to lose motion and your ability to move to do daily tasks as well as your hobbies.
Moving is essential if you are living with arthritis! Exercise helps to limit the pain and improve joint motion. It also boosts energy levels, improves strength to support your joints, and prevents falls and future injuries. Movement helps your joints be healthier. First, movement increases the synovial fluid in your joints which basically acts like oil that helps the joints move smoother. Second, exercise increases circulation in the body which increases circulation to the joints bringing good oxygen and nutrients to the joints. Also, research shows joint movement activates genes associated with rebuilding cartilage. Dr. John Hardin, a professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City reports exercise triggers a biological process called autophagy, where damaged cells in the joint are broken down and removed. Finally, exercise strengthens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding each joint. Resulting in a natural brace for the joints during activity!
If you recently have been diagnosed with arthritis or are currently dealing with arthritis, keep moving or get started. Here are a few tips on where to start!
1. Speak with a physical therapist on which specific exercises and/or programs would be best for you.
2. Begin with a flexibility program to get your joints loosened up and moving well. Try a Tai-Chi class or a gentle yoga class.
3. Begin an aerobic-based program. Walking 5-10 min 2-3 times per day. Water aerobics class. Riding a bike for 15- 30 min.
4. Begin to incorporate strengthening and balance exercises for your trunk, arms, and legs.
5. Find a friend or an accountability partner to join you in the fun of movement!
You don’t have to stop being active if your get diagnosed with arthritis! Please keep moving! We want to see you out biking, hiking, fishing, and simply enjoying life. If you need some direction or assistance on where you should start your movement journey please reach out to our team.
Written by Shelli Stevenson, DPT