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Attention Arthritis Sufferers: An Exercise Prescription Might be the Remedy

By Elly Wagner, Berry College Graduate and Exercise Specialist

Could an exercise prescription be as important as a prescription for medication?  The 54 million Americans with arthritis could reduce pain and the likelihood of a fall with appropriate activity.

Exercise can stabilize joints through balance, flexibility, and strength training.  It can also reduce the pain by increasing the fluid within our joints.  There is no need for a gym membership or fancy equipment to reduce arthritis pain.  Performing an array of exercises in the comfort of the home will do just fine.  Read on to find out how.

Find yourself making excuses for not exercising?  “I don’t have time,” “there’s no place to go,” “I don’t know where to start.”

Being active could actually reduce arthritis pain. More importantly, a 2013 study revealed that being more physical activity may reduce the risk of problems related to balance, stiffness and falls.  In this population study of 4,305 older adults, those who exercised regularly were 37% less likely to experience a fall. According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans aged 65 and over will fall this year.  Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

Why do individuals with arthritis fall? 

Arthritis pain can lead individuals to avoid movement and reduce confidence in activities requiring mobility.  Management of arthritis through exercise is a key factor in reducing falling and pain.

As arthritis progresses, pain becomes worse.  Symptoms of osteoarthritis, particularly joint swelling and pain, are important risk factors for falls. When critical areas of movement are inhibited, muscles begin to weaken.  When muscle weakness increases, so does hesitation with every step.  Weakness and pain can cause unusual ways of moving which alters one’s center of gravity and increases the chance of falling.

Why would doing something like exercise have any influence on my arthritis?  Can’t medications solve all my problems? 

Exercise can do a several things arthritis medications cannot do.  Exercise stimulates new bone tissue growth.  With new growth, comes higher bone density, this means your bones become stronger and allow more force with each step.  Exercise can also increase everyday balance and flexibility.  This reduces movement hesitation and fall risk, by having an awareness and confidence of the placement of one’s body in space.  Lastly, exercise can directly reduce arthritis symptoms by increasing lubrication in and around the cartilage of the joint– decreasing weight and pressure on joints.   An increase in liquids around joints will reduce pain, and bones no longer grind on each other.

What am I supposed to do? I don’t live near a gym and I have no idea what exercise is best!

Inaccessibility to workout facilities is a huge problem for people across the country.  However, moving around in the home can be just as helpful as going to a gym. Having a personal trainer may be helpful, but not everyone can afford one.  There are several exercise programs available that can be performed in the comfort of the home.  Like what?

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that follows gentle fluid motions.  It offers pain release and improved balance.  Other balance exercises include single leg stand, tandem leg stand, and chair stand.  Yoga is another great exercise to reduce pain and increase balance and flexibility.  Easy yoga moves include forward fold, cobra, extended leg balance, and seated spinal twist.  So find a nice, comfy floor in your house and start practicing! These may not mean much to those not familiar with yoga terminology.

 

Another important factor in preventing arthritis and falling is strength training.  This includes body weight resistance, which is using the body’s weight to strengthen muscles.  Some body weight exercises include straight-leg lifts, which is lying on the back with one knee bent and lifting the opposite leg and holding for 5 seconds.  This exercise will strengthen the quadriceps.  Another exercise is hamstring curls.  For this, stand up and hold the back of a chair, one leg will be straight and bend the other knee so that the heel is pointing toward your buttocks.  Hold this position for 5 seconds, release and switch.

Strength training also incorporates use of resistance training with free weights.  One exercise is Bicep curls. which can be done using dumbbells, rice bags, or soup cans.  Raise one arm at the elbow lower, and switch.  Strength training becomes a crucial factor when considering the importance of muscles on our everyday lives.  The stronger the muscles, the more stable they will become.  Having opposing muscles groups stabilized will make for safer movement, and a healthier body.

No one wants to fall, but with the progression of arthritis in millions of adults across the world, falling is becoming more prevalent and can lead to being bed-ridden.  Thankfully, there is a way to reverse the progress and reduce pain. Exercise can stabilize joints through balance, flexibility, and strength training.  It can also reduce the pain by increasing the fluid within our joints.  There is no need a gym membership or fancy equipment to rid yourself of the pain.  Performing an array of exercises in the comfort of the home will do just fine. Don’t let arthritis take away your freedom of movement, get moving and start living.

 

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