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H
ealth Hint #52
 


Arthritis: Easy Exercise for Creaky Joints

© American Institute for Preventive Medicine, DonR. Powell PhD

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 movement.

The following can be warning signs of arthritis. If any of these symptoms are present, consult your doctor.

Stiffness
Swelling in one or more joints
Deep, aching pain in a joint
Any pain associated with movement of a joint
Tenderness or redness in afflicted joints
Fever, weight 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 program.

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.

Choose exercise routines that use all affected joints.
Keep movements gradual, slow, and gentle.
If a joint is inflamed, don't exercise it.
Don't overdo it. Allow yourself sufficient rest.
Concentrate on freedom of movement, especially in the water, and be patient.

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