Arthritis and Exercise - Friend or Foe?
The physical pain caused by arthritis can often render many of us sedentary for fear of injury and aggravation. Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints and can come in many different forms, the most well known being osteoarthritis caused by ‘wear and tear’, or an autoimmune attack of joints as in rheumatoid arthritis. Anyone from young to old can be affected, and severity of the disease can range from a sore knee to chronic debilitating back or hip pain. An important step to take if you are starting to experience joint pain is to visit to your healthcare practitioner to determine what kind of arthritis may be developing and how to start addressing the underlying cause to help prevent progression.
EXERCISING WITH ARTHRITIS: BENEFITS
The question of whether to exercise or not is a serious one for those with arthritis who may often be advised of conflicting opinions from family and friends. One size may not fit all when it comes to recommendations for exercise in arthritis, but it is clear that the right forms of exercise tailored for your needs and physical restrictions can help maintain mobility and boost morale while preventing injury. Whether it is easing back into an evening walk or completing household activities, incorporating some form of exercise into daily life should be a part of every arthritis management plan. (1) There are plenty of benefits to exercising with arthritis including decreased pain and risk of falls, improvements to sleep and balance and management of body weight. Exercise will also decrease your risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Ongoing use of joints can also keep them healthy by increasing the uptake of nutrients in supportive joint cartilage. (1) It is amazing how our body is designed to thrive on movement!
GET STARTED AND MAINTAIN MOBILITY
When it comes to getting started, more is not always better. Maintaining mobility can be as simple as practicing ankle rolls and shoulder stretches, or beginning to take a short walk every day. Choose activities that are low impact like swimming or biking to reduce trauma if knee, hip or back pain is present. Set realistic goals and go slowly, some stiffness can be expected for the first few days but should improve as time goes on! A physiotherapist can also help design an exercise program for your needs and monitor performance to prevent injury. Be cautious when exercising with an inflamed, hot and swollen joint, sticking to gentle range of motion movements to prevent aggravation. (1) Visit the arthritis society at www.arthritis.ca for more great tips on exercising with arthritis.
HOW CAN A NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR HELP?
As a Naturopathic Doctor there many of other tools I use to help decrease inflammation and pain in arthritis so patients feel more comfortable exercising. Dietary factors can play a large role in inflammation, and I often recommend decreasing intake of refined sugars and processed foods, increasing intake of antioxidants through fruits and veggies, as well as identifying any individual food sensitivities that could be aggravating the condition. Proper support with calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, boron and other nutrients may also help over time, and acupuncture can be used to improve acute pain especially during a flare-up.
The verdict seems to be that exercise is a friend of arthritis when care is taken. Talk to your healthcare provider today if you are unsure how to start or want to clarify what exercise is safe for you!
N.A. Exercising Regularly. The Arthritis Society. Accessed Feb 22, 2016. Available at: http://arthritis.ca/manage-arthritis/educational-resources-tools/printed-publications/physical-activity-arthritis