Features August 2013 Issue

Idle Is Not Ideal for Arthritis

Stay active to ease pain and stiffness and maintain mobility in your arthritic joints.

When it comes to arthritis, the idea of “use it or lose it” applies. Remain inactive, and your joints will suffer. You’ll sacrifice mobility and lose strength in the surrounding muscles, leading to fatigue and pain.

Aim for 30 to 45 minutes of walking daily, at least five days a week, to benefit your joints.

Unfortunately, many people with arthritis literally aren’t taking steps to help their joints, according to research published May 3, 2013, in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Walking can improve arthritis symptoms, but the CDC study found that more than two-thirds of Americans with arthritis walk fewer than 90 minutes a week and aren’t getting the full benefits of walking.

If your knees, hips or other joints are stiff and achy, you probably think it best to take it easy and avoid overtaxing them. But a Cleveland Clinic expert says it’s time to get moving.  “The take-home message is that exercise is good for arthritis,” says Susan Joy, MD, with Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.
“Gone are the days when we say that exercise is beating up your joints and you should stop,” she says. “Just find what exercises are appropriate for your joints based on your mobility, strength, and joint motion, and then find something you can sustain over a period of time.”

Empower yourself
In a study published Nov. 6, 2012, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed the evidence supporting physical therapy interventions for knee osteoarthritis (OA). They concluded that treatments that “empower patients to actively self-manage knee OA,” such as aerobic, strength and aquatic exercises, are effective at relieving pain and maintaining physical function.

The researchers also noted that high adherence to exercise may provide greater improvements in knee pain and function, suggesting that therapeutic exercise programs focus on improving an OA patient’s adherence to exercise rather than the amount or intensity of the exercise.

“It’s a matter of finding something you can stick with,” Dr. Joy says. “A physical therapy regimen can be extremely helpful, but not all of us are regimented to do those same exercises every day. If you can find a bridge from physical therapy into other exercises, you’re going to get the benefits of something that’s more entertaining for you. Exercise is one of those things where you become very self-reliant.”
The exercise for you
The Arthritis Foundation and other experts have identified three essential categories of exercise for arthritis patients:

- Flexibility exercises: Taking your joints through their range of motion can ease stiffness and improve mobility. Each day, aim for about 15 minutes of these exercises, preferably dynamic flexibility exercises such as tai chi or gentle forms of yoga.
- Strength training: Do strength training every other day to preserve muscle mass.
- Aerobic exercise: Don’t be like the majority of Americans identified in the CDC report. Aim for at least 30 to 45 minutes of walking or other aerobic exercise, such as swimming and other aquatic exercises, at least five days a week. Swimming is a good aerobic option and may help you preserve joint flexibility and build strength while placing about half the stess on your joints as you would on dry land. Plus, the warm water in the pool can improve circulation and ease joint stiffness.

Consult your doctor, physical therapist, or an exercise expert to design an exercise regimen that is tailored to your individual capabilities and medical condition.
“Patients who feel like they have control of their arthritis and have a plan that they can control do much better,” says Dr. Joy. “You get to use your body and get to know how exercise impacts you overall.”