Approachable Fitness & Physical Therapy

I have arthritis, should I exercise?

Some Facts about arthritis:
  • About 70% of people over the age of 65 will have some level of arthritis and 1 in 5 of the whole population.  This equates to around 10 million people in the UK.
  • A number of people will have no symptoms and be oblivious to the fact that they have arthritis, but most people with it will suffer some symptoms, such as pain and stiffness, on a daily basis.
  • The most common type of arthritis is Osteoarthritis, followed by Rheumatoid (especially in women) and Gout (especially in men).
  • There are actually over 100 different diseases that can cause the problems characterised as arthritis.
  • There is no cure for arthritis.
 
What is arthritis?
Arthritis affects the joints of the body.  At least two bones meet to form a joint, but some joints have three and wrists and ankles have more. Each joint in the body is constructed in a slightly different way.  Most of the main joints have cartilage covering the bone ends and the whole joint is enclosed in a sort of bag called the joint capsule.  This bag holds synovial fluid which effectively lubricates the joint.
Arthritis develops when the cartilage has become worn, torn, or has been removed, often due to trauma.
The synovial fluid within the joint capsule becomes thicker or ‘stickier’ as we age and as a result doesn’t coat the cartilage as well.  This results in increased wear to the cartilage and the bone ends which become roughened.  The joint can no longer slide smoothly and pain results.  This is typical in osteoarthritis of the knees, shoulders and hips.
With Rheumatoid arthritis joints become swollen as the body attacks its own tissues.  There are many other forms of arthritis, such as spondylitis which is when inflammation around the spine causes pain.

What causes arthritis?
Arthritis has a variety of causes, most of which are not fully understood.  For example:
  • Trauma to a joint earlier in life frequently makes arthritis more likely.  A car accident, sporting injury, trip or fall can all cause damage to a joint, weakening it and making it susceptible to arthritis, sometimes not manifested until later life.
  • Cartilage has a poor blood supply which means that when damaged by twisting or tearing is doesn’t heal very well.  As a result, it was common for cartilage to be removed following trauma, although nowadays this is less frequently performed and exercise is used to manage the situation.
  • Carrying excess weight puts more strain on the joints increasing the amount of wear and tear.
  • There is a clear genetic link which can increase the risk factor for Rheumatoid arthritis which can be activated by trauma.
 
Exercising with arthritis.
Arthritis causes joints to be stiff, painful and to have a reduced range of movement.  Exercise can improve these symptoms but it needs to take account of the arthritis. I work to create an environment and exercises within which the joints can be moved freely and without pain and you feel able to exercise within you own capabilities.  In addition, exercise can encourage good posture, which is essential in keeping the spine straight and reducing the risk of kyphosis – rounding of the neck shoulders as well as potentially slowing the progress of degeneration.
 
Key points to remember:
  • Loosening joints, using movement which is pain free, is essential to encourage and keep the maximum mobility.  For example, in ball and socket joints, simply rotating the limb within the joint capsule can have a beneficial effect, by encouraging the synovial fluid to coat the whole joint and become less ‘sticky’.
  • Specific muscle strengthening work to support the damaged joints will help reduce pain on a daily basis.  This is especially beneficial for the hips, shoulders, knees and spine.
  • Do not push through the pain, look for a different way to loosen or strengthen the painful area.
  • Avoid overstretching and putting joints into positions out of their normal range.  For example, knees are a hinge joint, designed to bend in a forward and backward motion with limited rotational range.  Sitting with legs crossed will stress the joint and in time can cause wear and then damage.
  • Note which activities cause pain and look to find other ways of doing them.  Exercise can be designed to help you strengthen your body enabling you to do regular activities with less pain.

Finally:
Arthritis can be debilitating and has no cure, but exercise is one of the recommended treatments - don’t let arthritis be a reason to stop exercising.

 
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