• Age — the incidence increases with age
• Gender — women are afflicted more than men after age 45
• Continued overuse of or trauma to joints
• Overweight and obesity
• Fractures and other joint injuries or infections
• Congenital defect or weakness in a joint
• Occupations that include tasks that place repetitive stress on a particular joint
• Other types of arthritis, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis
• A genetic defect in joint cartilage
Best remedy for osteoarthritis?
Get up and go
Photo courtesy of Arthritis Foundation
“Arthritis affects more than 4.6 million African Americans and 3 million Hispanics and Latinos,” says Dr. Jan Cook, medical director of Innovation & Leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “And, unfortunately, African Americans and Hispanics are almost twice as likely as Caucasians to report experiencing work limitations and severe pain.”
The news is not all bad. Simple activities can help ease arthritis pain. Gentle forms of exercise like walking, dancing, stretching, water aerobics, yoga and tai chi can actually delay disabilities linked to arthritis as well. And finding comfortable ways to be active may let you reclaim some abilities lost to arthritis while strengthening muscles that help support joints and boosting your overall well-being, mood and joy in life.
Weight, health and exercise
Controlling your weight is important if you have arthritis. It can help prevent, or at least slow, the progression of osteoarthritis in knee and hip joints. A healthy weight helps ease rheumatoid arthritis, too.
Why should weight matter? As you walk, experts estimate that the amount of force on weight-bearing joints like your knees is three to six times your total weight. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound lost takes away 4 pounds of pressure on the knee. That benefits anyone, but especially people with tender, arthritic joints. One study showed losing 15 pounds of excess weight cut knee pain from osteoarthritis in half. Other research found that women who lost 11 pounds lowered their risk for developing osteoarthritis by 50 percent.
Exercise is essential because it helps people control weight, ease pain and possibly limit disabilities. Arthritis can complicate other ailments, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, by making it harder to exercise. Regular exercise helps people prevent or manage these illnesses, while staying more independent and able to handle every-day tasks.
Starting an exercise program
Photo courtesy of Mindfulbody T’ai Chi
If this seems like far too much right now, don’t worry. Start small, say CDC experts: just do 3 to 5 minutes of activities, two times a day. Build up slowly, giving your body a chance to adjust before adding more active time.
Before starting any new exercise program, discuss it with your doctor. He or she can help you set limits and recommend the right mix of activities, rest, joint protection and pain relief strategies based on your overall health and type of arthritis. If necessary, your doctor can refer you for physical therapy, too.
Keep these tips in mind:
• Guidance from experienced exercise professionals helps. The Arthritis Foundation offers joint-safe exercise programs taught by certified instructors (see www.arthritis.org/programs.php to learn if there is a class near you). Local community centers, hospitals or health centers may have similar classes, too.
• Start slowly and step up activity gradually. Any activity is better than none. But if you do too much, your muscles and joints are likely to hurt in the next few days, which could discourage you from exercising again. So go slowly and let your body adjust to increased activity.
•Stick with moderate activity (see sidebar) unless your doctor advises otherwise. You should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
• Short bouts of activity are fine. Work toward making sessions at least 10 minutes long. Three 10-minute bouts a day add up to 30 minutes.
• A warm shower and pain medication before exercise may be helpful. Afterward, cold packs may help. Talk to your doctor about this.
• Warm up before exercise and cool down properly afterward. Gentle stretches make a great cool-down while extending your range of motion.
During and after exercise, it’s normal to feel some soreness or aching in joints and nearby muscles. It’s especially common in the first four to six weeks of a new exercise program. If necessary, slow down: exercise fewer days a week or for shorter periods of time until discomfort improves. Ultimately, most people find that sticking with a regular exercise program offers significant pain relief.
The CDC recommends checking with your doctor if:
• Pain is sharp, stabbing and constant
• Pain makes you limp
• Pain lasts longer than two hours after activity or worsens at night
• Pain fails to respond to rest, medication or hot or cold packs
• A lot of swelling occurs or joints feel hot or appear reddened