Arthritis occurs when the joint wears out because of the aging process, injury, or certain inflammatory diseases like gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
The most common arthritis is osteoarthritis which almost everyone will suffer from if one lives for long. It is a mechanical wear and tear. Also, the heavier or overweight you are, the faster your joints will wear out. Some of the symptoms of arthritis are stiffness, joint pain, swelling, tenderness, diminished range of motion, etc. which worsens as we get older.
Exercise is proven to not only reduce symptoms of arthritis but will also improve function and reduce wear and tear of the joints in the long run. Perhaps it will also eliminate the need for a knee replacement.
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However, when the arthritic joint is symptomatic any exercises may aggravate the pain and hence one needs to be careful while choosing these physical activities. The exercises that are not harsh on the joints are mainly low-impact type of activities like yoga, walking, cycling, elliptical training, swimming, water walking, and group exercises. Whatever exercises you choose should be ones you will enjoy. That will also improve your happiness level by releasing endorphins.
It’s important to start exercising gradually. As your body and joints take a while to get accustomed to exercises. Initially, the discomfort of arthritis may increase, so, go slow. A few minutes a few times a day is good to start with. Build up on the exercises in weeks and months to come.
It’s important to build in variations of different types of exercises. That way exercise can focus on the whole body and not just one part of the body. Yoga and stretching type of exercises go a long way to improve the flexibility of joints and make them last a lifetime. Additionally, muscles can be strengthened by light weights, elastic bands, or isometric exercises.
Swimming and water walking is a form of resistance exercises and thus are possible to be undertaken even in severe or end stages of arthritis. This is because once we are in the water, we are lighter, and weight is no more a problem as there is no pressure on the joints. Hence, these physical activities are painless, and joints can get the needed exercise.
In addition to improving bone strength, flexibility, muscle strength, range of motion and weight control also gives a major benefit by improving coordination and balance. This can be further improved by doing proprioceptive or balancing exercises.
No matter how significant your arthritis is it’s important to start some exercises. Try one for a month. If not suitable try another. Don’t give up. Slowly build up, and add variations. You will succeed in reversing symptoms for sure.
Exercise will not only help reverse the progression of your arthritis, but it will also enhance your life, you will sleep much better and be happier. But make sure to always keep your doctors and physiotherapist informed about the activities.
Dr. Sachin Bhonsle, Orthopedic Surgeon
Fortis Hospital, Mulund