Living with Arthritis

How many of us catch ourselves saying things such as “I do not recover as fast anymore” or “Everything seems harder as I get older?” Aging is a natural part of life and, unfortunately, so is the physical aging process of the body. So what’s a common condition most people associate with aging? Arthritis.

Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. As the leading cause of pain and work disability, it seems to be an inevitable condition for many. According to the CDC, over 54 million people have arthritis, 24 million are limited from activity due to arthritis, and one in four people have severe joint pain. In addition, $303.5 billion is spent on medical services and lost wages each year because of arthritis.

As we process those numbers, one starts to think how they can best manage arthritis or what to do if they are diagnosed with it. First thing to consider are the different types of arthritis. The two most common types include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage at the end of bones
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune systems attacks the joints

The overall goal of treatment for arthritis is to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

So how do we begin to improve quality of life? It’s first important to realize not everyone is the same. An individual’s personal management skills may vary and it’s okay if it works for them. Some overall guidelines to manage arthritis symptoms and avoid disability include:

  • Talking with your doctor about: 
    • What type of arthritis do you have?
    • What is the severity of the arthritis?
    • Where is the arthritis?
    • If pain changes
    • Management plan
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Protecting the joints with arthritis by avoiding things such as:
    • Running
    • Jumping
    • Repetitive aggravating activity
  • Being active 

Being active is a very important part of managing arthritis. Exercise has many benefits including helping to maintain a healthy weight and bone strength, aiding in energy levels, improving mood and overall increasing mobility and quality of life.

Despite this, many people avoid exercise due to the fear of making their condition worse or increasing their pain. However, really, it is the opposite. Inactivity leads to increased joint stiffness and pain. Another reason people avoid activity is the uncertainty of what activity is safe or where to begin.

What type of exercise should people with arthritis be engaging in?

The answer is not just one thing. There are options based on your specific type of arthritis, severity and lifestyle.

  • Cardiovascular exercise is important to maintaining aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. Types of cardiovascular exercise that can be beneficial include water exercise, biking, elliptical, and walking as tolerated. Many of these are low impact options are meant to reduce the stress on the joints while allowing movement. This does not mean though that higher impact activities are completely off the table for everyone, it just depends on the location of one’s arthritis and activity tolerance. For instance, if someone has shoulder arthritis they may tolerate running, but not be tolerable to overhead activity.
  • Mobility exercises are also important for individuals with arthritis. This can include anything from static stretching, dynamic stretching, Tai Chi, and Yoga. The purpose of mobility exercises is to help maintain or improve pain free range of motion.
  • Strengthening exercises help muscle development, which in turn reduce the stress placed on joints. Examples of strengthening exercises can include body weight exercises, use of resistance band, free weight, and machines.

Whether freshly starting an exercise routine, or attempting to modify one already initiated, it is important to start slow. For example, if beginning cardiovascular activity, start with five-ten minutes and slowly add a few minutes as tolerated. With strengthening exercises, start with no or little weight with gradual progression of resistance. When exercising, pay attention to one’s pain. If your pain increases, and the pain is worse than usual, stop the activity. You should monitor your post exercise soreness levels, to help indicate whether an exercise routine was too aggressive or if the appropriate level of difficulty was reached. . It is important to realize and understand that while beginning an exercise routine, some degree of muscle soreness is expected.  If you’re unsure of what to do or where to start do not hesitate to talk with your doctor, physical therapist, trainer or healthcare provider. We can help establish a proper exercise routine. For more information on our ortho team, click here.

So, let’s recap the key takeaway messages from what we’ve discussed:

  • Arthritis is a main cause of pain and disability.
  • Exercise is a key component in the management of arthritis. The symptoms, severity, type, and condition of arthritis vary from person to person. Since arthritis is specific to an individual, so should be their exercise routine.
  • A routine can include cardiovascular, strengthening, and mobility exercises with the goal of reducing pain, limiting joint stiffness, increasing mobility and improving quality of life.

Remember do not be afraid to move, be excited to!

Written by Spectrum Orthopaedics – Windham physical therapist, Lindsey Higginbottom




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