Living better with arthritis
by Cindy Binkley, FLT Columnist
Arthritis is a growing problem. There are 52.5 million people living with arthritis in the United States alone! One out of every four people are affected, making it the number one cause of disability. As the baby boomer generation approaches 2020, the number is expected to grow to about 60 million. Arthritis results in over 39 million physician visits and more than a half a million hospitalizations. The yearly cost in the U.S. is over $128 billion in lost productivity, income and medical costs. These statistics should make each of us stand up and take notice. As we grow older, the risk of developing arthritis only gets greater. By the age of 65, there is a 59 percent chance you will develop arthritis!
What is arthritis? It is a generic term that refers to more than 100 diseases that cause joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Some of the most common types are:
- Osteoarthritis: a degenerative disease in which the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones deteriorates causing the bones to rub together. It is the most prevalent type of arthritis.
- Rheumatoid: an autoimmune disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed. It is one of the most serious types, affecting primarily women.
- Gout: this condition results from an accumulation of urate crystals accumulate in a joint, most often in the great toe. Gout can be completely controlled with medication and diet.
- Fibromyalgia: a complicated syndrome known for its widespread muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems and painful tender points.
Who is most susceptible? Your chances increase if you are Caucasian, female, are overweight, have previously injured a joint, are inactive or perform a sport or work activity that puts repetitive stress on a joint (i.e., play sports, work construction, etc). Preventing arthritis is quite challenging; however, if you stay active and maintain a healthy diet, your chances improve.
Few arthritis conditions can be cured, but most can be controlled. Most often the goal is to control pain and minimize further joint damage. What do you do to fight back? Controlling arthritis takes a multi-pronged approach.
First and foremost, get MOVING! You may think that exercise and arthritis don’t go hand in hand. But that’s certainly not the case. Research has shown that exercise is the essential tool in managing your arthritis. It decreases pain and stiffness, increases flexibility in your joints, gives you more energy, allows you to sleep better, helps you to control your weight and prevents further loss of function. If your pain is severe, the best place to start is with aquatic therapy in a warm therapeutic pool. Water provides more resistance than air, so you get a good workout without the wear and tear on your joints. Once you have completed a course of therapy, you can continue to get the same benefits by participating in an arthritis aquatic program. Look for one sponsored by The Arthritis Foundation. Other options are a walking program, yoga, tai chi or a gentle exercise program. Seek the approval from your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Next, learn all you can about protecting your joints in order to save energy and make your work easier. Keep in mind that pain that lasts longer than two hours after doing a task is a signal to either decrease the amount of time spent or change the way you are performing the task. Avoid tasks that require a tight grip, twisting with any force and staying in the same position for long periods of time. The use of devices that make work easier, such as grippers for opening jars and tools with longer and thicker handles will decrease amount of stress on your joints. Maintaining good posture also decreases the stress on your spine and can help to prevent arthritis.
Early intervention is the very important. If you notice any of these warning signs lasting for more than two weeks — swelling of one or more joints, early morning stiffness, recurring pain in any joint, redness and warmth of a joint — consult with your physician. Participation in a self-help course, such as Breaking the Pain Chain is a great way to learn more about protecting your joints, exercise options and progression, medications and how to communicate more clearly with your physician.
Arthritis does not have to lead to disability or deformity. If you are having any of the symptoms above, take action today! The Arthritis Foundation has a plethora of information and ideas to live better with arthritis. You can find them at http://www.arthritis.org.