Exercise is beneficial to most of us, but exercise is especially
vital to patients who have arthritis. Over 40 million Americans (1 in 7)
have arthritis. Chances are good that you or your loved one may develop
arthritis in the future. Let's explore the role of exercise with regards
to caring for the arthritic population.
Years ago, doctors and therapists believed exercise would exacerbate
the already painful joints of the arthritic patient. New research is now
yielding a much different picture. Exercise helps get stiff joints moving,
strengthens surrounding muscles for joint integrity, improves circulation
and flexibility, builds stronger bones and cartilage, and provides more
strength for daily chores. Exercise also provides greater self-esteem, a
component lacking by many sufferers of arthritis. Many patients feel
controlled by the disease instead of them controlling the condition.
Dependence on other people to help with daily chores can lead to
frustration. Combined with daily pain, that can lead to stress and
fatigue. Depression and anger often follow which can place strain on
relationships with friends and family. As caregivers, we need to be
encouraging and empathetic towards our clients’ loved ones. Exercise can
be an effective way to help them regain control.
Exercise programming for this segment of the population should begin
with involving the primary care doctor and/or rhumatoligist, along with
the therapist and the caregiver. With over 100 different forms of
arthritis, exercise programs need to be tailored to each individual as the
implications for exercise varies greatly based of the form and severity of
the disease. The focus of the program should be to improve the overall
quality of the person's life. This is achieved through: Increasing overall
health and fitness (reducing stress, increasing flexibility, etc.),
improving self-esteem and aiding in pain management.
Exercise protocols that have proved beneficial for managing arthritis
have been stretching and range-of-motion exercises. The aim of
range-of-motion exercise is to move a joint as far as comfortable and then
stretch it a little more. This helps maintain joint mobility along with
improving joint function. Range of motion work also helps to minimize
joint pain. "Use it or lose it" certainly applies here.
Performing light stretches, even several times per day, is acceptable and
beneficial with most patients.
Low-impact exercises such as walking, bicycling and swimming also have
their place in arthritis programming. As mentioned earlier, recent studies
have shown low-impact activities aid greatly in this population. The
benefits of this cardiovascular work include: strengthening the heart,
lungs, weight management, and reducing stress to name only a few. Aim for
30 minutes of low-impact activity done at a comfortable pace. This can be
done every day and even broken down into three, ten-minute sessions in the
Finally, strengthening exercises help to increase muscle and connective
tissue strength, stabilize joints, and improve overall tone. Strength
training can come in the form of weights, elastic bands or simply one's
body weight against gravity. Resistance training is also a key component
for increasing bone density, which is of special concern to women.
Strength training should only be performed every other day, allowing a day
of rest in between.
By incorporating exercise and activity into part of the treatment plan
for people with arthritis, successful pain management, conditioning and an
enhanced lifestyle can become possible.
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