Excerpted from "A Year of Health Hints"
365 Practical Ways to Feel Better and Live Longer
Arthritis robs some 40 million Americans of their freedom of
movement by breaking down the protective cartilage in the joints.
By destroying cartilage, arthritis results in pain and decreased
The following can be warning signs of arthritis. If any of
these symptoms are present, consult your doctor.
Swelling in one or
Deep, aching pain
in a joint
associated with movement of a joint
redness in afflicted joints
loss, or fatigue that accompanies joint pain
Many forms of arthritis exist. Three of the most common are
osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Osteoarthritis is a painful degeneration of the
cartilage in the weight-bearing and frequently used joints. As
far as researchers can tell, this kind of arthritis is typically
brought on by genetics and wear ond tear on the joints. It can
also follow an injury to the joint. Osteoarthritis often affects
older people and is the most common type of arthritis. Brief pain
and stiffness at the beginning of the day are typical.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by a chronic
inflammation of the fingers, wrists, ankles, elbows, and knees,
causing pain, swelling, and tenderness. Morning stiffness lasting
longer than an hour is very common. RA affects women more than
men, striking in their thirties and forties.
Anklylosing spondylitis generally affects young men
between the ages of 15 and 45 and is characterized by a stiff
backbone, accompanied by low back pain.
If your doctor does diagnose arthritis, he or she may
prescribe medication (usually aspirin or a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), rest, heat or cold treatment, and some
physical therapy or exercise, depending on what kind of arthritis
you have. The goal is to reduce pain and improve joint mobility.
Among those treatments, exercise is perhaps the most
important, whether it be some form of stretching, isometrics, or
simple endurance exercise. Exercise seems to provide both
physical relief and psychological benefits. For example, it
prevents the muscles from shrinking, while inactivity encourages
both loss of muscle tone and bone deterioration. Too much
exercise, however, will cause more pain in those with rheumatoid
arthritis. So if you have arthritis, consult your physician, a
physical therapist, or a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in
rehabilitative treatment) to assist you in developing an exercise
One form of exercise that's effective and soothing is
hydrotherapy, or movement done in water. It allows freedom of
movement and puts less stress on the joints because nearly all of
the body weight is supported by the water. Doctors highly
recommend swimming, too.
But remember, hydrotherapy--or any form of exercise--should
never produce pain. One message that can't be emphasized enough
is "Go easy." If you begin to hurt, stop and rest or
apply ice packs.
The following exercise suggestions may provide relief.
routines that use all affected joints.
gradual, slow, and gentle.
If a joint is
inflamed, don't exercise it.
Don't overdo it.
Allow yourself sufficient rest.
freedom of movement, especially in the water, and be patient.