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.
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, activity, and wear and tear on the joints. It can also follow an injury to the joint. Osteoarthritis usually affects older people and is the most common type of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by a chronic inflammation of the fingers, wrists, ankles, elbows, and/or knees, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness. Morning stiffness lasting longer than an hour is very common. RA affects women more often than men, striking in their thirties and forties.
Ankylosing spondylitis generally affects young men between the ages of 15 and 45 and is characterized by a stiff backbone, accompanied by low back pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of arthritis, therefore, depend upon the type of arthritis that is present. Symptoms generally include:
- Swelling in one or more joints.
- Deep, aching pain in a joint.
- Any pain associated with movement of a joint.
- Tenderness, warmth, or redness in afflicted joints.
- Fever, weight loss, or fatigue that accompanies joint pain.
Treatment and Care
If your doctor does diagnose arthritis, he or she may prescribe medication (usually aspirin or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine), 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. Low-impact 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 or osteoarthritis. 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.