Archive for Sunday, September 19, 2004

Exercise essential tool for managing osteoarthritis

September 19, 2004

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Have you been told that you have osteoarthritis? If so, you are not alone. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis affecting nearly 21 million Americans. OA accounts for more than half of the total hip replacements and 85 percent of the total knee replacements done in the United States. It is believed to be responsible for medical costs ranging from $15.5 billion to $28.6 billion annually. It is different from rheumatoid arthritis and will be treated differently, although the symptoms may be similar. So don't confuse the two; learn the difference.

OA occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints wears away, leading to progressive changes in the bone and supporting tissues. OA can result in debilitating pain and stiffness, loss of mobility and function, and eventually severe disability. The disease was once thought simply to be the unavoidable consequence of aging for which there were no treatments, but advances in understanding of its causes and what happens in OA are providing hope that its prevention and control are within reach.

It was thought for many years that if you had arthritis you should not exercise because it would damage your joints. Now, however, research has shown that exercise is an essential tool in managing arthritis. Moderate exercise done on a regular basis offers a host of benefits. Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness; build strong muscle around the joints and increase flexibility and endurance. Being active will also help promote overall health and fitness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, decreasing depression, and improving your self-esteem. An additional benefit is that it helps stave off other health problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends a number of things you can do to help your OA condition. Losing weight is primary. You won't just look better, you'll feel better. Every extra pound you gain puts four times the stress on your knees. The flip side is that even a small amount of weight loss will give your knees relief. Research has shown that losing as little as 11 pounds may cut your risk of OA of the knee by 50 percent. A key to weight loss is portion sizes and being active (They suggest that you turn off the tube!).

Pain and loss of function are major problems for people with OA. Just as there are different types of arthritis, there are also different types of pain. Pain is your body's alarm system telling you something is wrong. When your body is injured, nerves in the affected area release chemical signals. Other nerves send these signals to your brain where they are recognized as pain. Arthritis pain is caused by inflammation, damage to joint tissues or stress. Fatigue that results from the disease process can make your pain seem worse and harder to handle.

The Arthritis Foundation's Guide to Pain Management suggests that you understand your pain, managing your pain, take medicines wisely, exercise regularly, protect your body, use heat and cold, get enough sleep, consider massage, practice relaxation, and if your health care provider suggests other treatments, be open to new modalities.

All forms of treatments and activities need to be discussed and a plan developed for you with your doctor. There are many new drugs available and others being developed. The Arthritis Foundation is currently funding 68 studies focused on OA representing a total commitment of nearly $14 million. Your local Arthritis Foundation has many educational materials available for you upon request. They also can assist you in locating a Pace Program (People with Arthritis can Exercise) and aquatic exercise programs in your area.

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