According to the CDC, nearly 50 percent of people 65 and older have had arthritis diagnosed by a doctor. Many others may go years undiagnosed. While your first tendency may be to "favor" a painful joint by limiting its movement, doing so on an ongoing basis can actually have the opposite of your intended effect. It may stiffen the joint, increasing pain and limiting your range of motion. Exercise can restore function and reduce pain, but before you jump right into a new exercise program, here's what you need to know.
1. Exercise improves range of motion
The inflammation in the joints, known as arthritis, limits your ability to move. It may do so by physically stopping the movement of a joint in a certain direction. Not unlike a hard piece of plastic or metal, the more you bend it the more pliable it becomes. With each small, measured movement you can slowly work the joint into greater and greater range of motion, increasing mobility and reducing the stiffness and pain at the same time.
2. Exercise strengthens supportive muscles
When the muscles around a certain joint become weak, any activity at all puts more pressure on the joint that would normally be on a stronger muscle. Lack of muscle tone may increase risk of actual tears in the joint. That muscular protection keeps the joint safe so that all it has to do is move while the muscles do the "heavy lifting," even if heavy lifting is something as light as a small grocery bag.
3. Exercise increases blood flow, which promotes healing
When it comes to getting oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, your heart and circulatory system have quite a job on their hands, and lack of exercise can lead to poor circulatory function, meaning that cells don't get those vital nutrients.
This can lead to necrosis, where the actual joint cells begin to die at an alarming rate. When you increase the blood flow, nutrients you eat and drink more effectively get where they need to go, which can reduce the inflammation, pain, and ongoing joint damage associated with arthritis.
4. Exercise reduces inflammation
Inflammation is a lot like a 6-year-old who wanted to help you do the laundry, but accidentally used bleach instead of detergent. Inflammation is a very important immune system function. It helps the joint fight infection and prevent injury, but it often does so in an overzealous way, which leads to the chronic joint inflammation we call arthritis. Because exercise can actually heal the arthritic joint to some extent, a lot of the pain and stiffness of arthritis is alleviated.
5. Exercise improves balance
According to the CDC, each year around 3 million older adults end up in the emergency room because of a serious fall, and many of these falls can be attributed to arthritis. Exercise helps strengthen muscles, bones, and joints to improve balance and reduce fall risk.
Why you shouldn't just hit the gym
After learning about the benefits of exercise, you may have a new-found willingness to exercise the affected joint to relieve arthritis pain. That commitment is commendable, but please proceed with caution. If you have not been very physically active over the past several years as the arthritis progressed, you may be more susceptible to injury. Take it slow and target the joint's range of motion. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that can have many causes, including, but not limited to:
- Virus or bacteria
- Bumps/knobs on the joint
- Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
Doctor Berkower assesses what type of arthritis you have and develops an exercise program in conjunction with comprehensive arthritis treatment to safely reduce pain and restore function.
If you're living with arthritis, know that not moving is the joint is usually not the answer. Physical therapy and an individualized exercise program can help. Book online today.