From Harvard Health Blog-
Osteoarthritis , the most common type of arthritis, affects 27 million Americans. Many people believe it’s a crippling and inevitable part of growing old. But things are changing. Treatments are better, and plenty of people age well without much arthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, you can take steps to protect your joints, reduce discomfort, and improve mobility.
Your knee aches from time to time. Or maybe your fingers don’t seem as nimble as they used to be. Is it osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis develops when cartilage, the flexible tissue lining joints, deteriorates. The space between bones gradually narrows and the bone surfaces change shape. Over time, this leads to joint damage and pain.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop over many years. The first sign is often joint pain after strenuous activity or overusing a joint. Joints may be stiff in the morning, but loosen up after a few minutes of movement. Or the joint may be mildly tender, and movement may cause a crackling or grating sensation. Some people have continual joint pain that interferes with sleep.
People with osteoarthritis often have it in more than one joint. It is most common in the knee, hip, lower back, neck, and certain finger joints.
• Knees. When osteoarthritis affects the knee, the result is pain, swelling, and stiffness of that joint. What starts out as some discomfort after a period of disuse can progress to difficulty walking, climbing, bathing, and getting in and out of bed.
• Hands. Osteoarthritis of the hand often starts with stiffness and soreness of the fingers and in the base of the thumb, particularly in the morning. You may find that it becomes harder to pinch, and your finger joints crackle when moved. People with osteoarthritis may have difficulty doing routine movements, like opening a jar, turning a key, or typing.
• Hips and spine. When osteoarthritis affects the hip, pain may be felt in the groin, down the inside thigh, or even as far away as the knee. Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine (in the neck) can cause pain in the shoulders and arms. When it affects the lower spine, pain can spread to the buttocks or legs.
Exercise is good, not bad, for arthritis
When pain strikes, it’s human nature to avoid doing things that aggravate it. That’s certainly the case for people with arthritis, many of whom tend to avoid exercise when a hip, knee, ankle or other joint hurts. Although that strategy seems to make sense, it may harm more than help.
Taking a walk on most days of the week can actually ease arthritis pain and improve other symptoms. It’s also good for the heart, brain, and every other part of the body.
Walking is good exercise for people with arthritis, but it isn’t the only one. A review of the benefits of exercise for people with osteoarthritis found that strength training, water-based exercise, and balance therapy were the most helpful for reducing pain and improving function. “Swimming or bicycling tend to be better tolerated than other types of exercise among individuals with arthritis in the hips or knees,” says rheumatologist Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Exercise programs aim to help people with arthritis:
•increase the range of motion in the affected joint
You can create an exercise program of your own, with help from a trusted doctor, nurse, or physical therapist. Or you can try one that’s been developed by arthritis experts. Examples include the Fit and Strong! program from the University of Illinois at Chicago, or one of several programs developed by the Arthritis Foundation: its Exercise Program, Walk with Ease program, or Aquatics program.
The fatigue, pain, and stiffness caused by many types of arthritis present a barrier to exercise—but these are the same symptoms that tend to improve with regular exercise.
If you have arthritis and don’t currently exercise, start slow. Take a five-minute stroll around your block, swim, or workout on an exercise bicycle. Do it every day, and then gradually increase the time spent exercising or how hard you exercise, but not both at once. If you have heart disease or other health issues, check with your doctor before embarking on an exercise program.
“If exercise was a newly developed medicine, it would be a blockbuster,” says Dr. Shmerling. “It has an excellent safety profile, and enormous benefits for people with arthritis, heart disease, and a long and growing list of other health problems.”
AMAC, Inc. recommends that you always consult your personal physician before making any health care decisions.