Generally when we are in pain, it’s human nature to avoid doing things that increase it. Although that strategy seems to make sense, for people with arthritis it may do more harm more than good. The pain, stiffness and fatigue caused by many forms of arthritis present a barrier to exercise. However, these very symptoms can actually be improved with exercise. The key is the type and amount of exercise.
For example if you have osteoarthritis in joints such as the hips, knees and lower back, high impact exercise such as running can aggravate symptoms and it may accelerate progression of the arthritis. This is supported by a recent study from the University of California, San Francisco. Dr Thomas Link states "According to the results of our study, participating in a high-impact activity, such as running, more than one hour per day at least three times a week appears associated with more degenerated cartilage and potentially a higher risk for development of osteoarthritis". However if that same person was to swim, cycle or walk then they are less likely to put strain on the weight bearing joints. Exercise doesn't reverse damage that's already done. But it helps prevent arthritis from getting worse
The main benefit of exercise comes from the movement element. Cartilage is living tissue but it does not have a blood supply. Instead it relies on movement of the joint to create a pumping action that circulates fluid containing oxygen and nutrients. It's like spraying WD-40 on your joints!
Exercise also helps:
- increase the range of motion in the affected joint
- strengthen muscles
- build endurance
- improve balance
So how long should you exercise for?
Three years ago, it was recommended that people with arthritis exercise moderately every day for about 20 minutes. Later blogs will examine what types of exercise are best for people with arthritis. I will also look into treatment techniques and specific physiotherapy based exercises.