Two common forms of arthritis exist, namely osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage of a specific joint degenerates, resulting in localized pain and inflammation within that joint. The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis are the hands, spine, hips and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory, multi-joint disease in which numerous joints and organ systems may be affected as a result of an autoimmune response. The most commonly affected joints include the wrists, hands, knees, feet and neck.
When exercising a person with osteoarthritis, one needs to consider the degree of articular cartilage degeneration in the specific joint, the level of pain and discomfort in that joint, the range of motion of the joint, the strength of the surrounding muscles of the affected joint, and finally, whether or not the individual is having a flare up. Osteoarthritis will periodically flare up and then may almost go into remission. During a flare up, pain will be much more severe. Common features associated with exercise include joint pain and stiffness, osteophytes (small bony formations) and cartilage destruction. It is important to strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joints so that they can support those joints. However, these exercises must be performed carefully, placing minimal stress and impact on those joints. It is also essential to stretch the muscles surrounding the affected joints in order to maintain their range of motion and reduce joint stiffness.
When selecting exercises for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, you need to know if the individual is having a flare up – increased pain will be the primary symptom. Common features associated with rheumatoid arthritis include morning stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes, acute and chronic inflammation, chronic pain and reduced joint integrity. Low-intensity and low-impact exercises, with lots of stretching, are recommended for these individuals.
For any form of arthritis, it is important that individuals do regular low-impact, aerobic exercise, such as swimming or cycling, and lots of stretching. Any exercises that place heavy stress on the affected joints should be avoided. During flare ups, vigorous exercise must be avoided. Water therapy and water aerobics are highly recommended for individuals who suffer from arthritis.
Arthritis is a common condition, which often leaves people afraid to do any form of physical activity. However, exercise is important in managing the condition and maintaining mobility. So, if you suffer from arthritis, see a biokineticist to have a comprehensive assessment and be given an appropriate exercise programme. This will allow you to function more normally and improve your quality of life.