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Archive for Monday, November 12, 2012

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As I See Fit: Arthritis sufferers can work out with specially modified exercises

November 12, 2012

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It’s challenging to come up with topics to write about. After all, one can only extol the benefits of lunges, squats and tabata sets before it all becomes a bit redundant.

One can only write about the true health benefits of clean eating, portion control and wellness from the inside out before one’s readers scream, “OK, OK! We’ve got it already!”

Thankfully, many of you approach me with your own personal questions regarding health and fitness, and provide me with a jump start when creativity is lacking.

This happened again just last week, when a friend of mine related the struggles of her current workout program.

She had done all of the right things. She ate well, she joined a gym, she walked outdoors and she had even hired a trainer. Yet she found that she was unable to complete many of the workouts that the trainer gave her, and although she explained her physical condition over and over, the trainer kept recommending the same exercises that my friend had difficulty performing.

Instead of feeling energized and proud at having completed a solid workout, she felt discouraged and frustrated. The trainer simply “didn’t get it,” my friend said.

I know that you are waiting with bated breath to find out what could possibly be wrong with this woman, that her trainer couldn’t even help her. Well, it’s a very common issue, and one that we hear more about every year.

It’s arthritis. And you cannot let it stop you.

First of all, YES. You should exercise in some fashion if you have arthritis, and certainly as soon as you are diagnosed with it.

Yes, studies have shown that exercise helps people with arthritis in many ways. Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility, muscle strength and endurance. It also helps with weight reduction and contributes to an improved sense of well-being.

That being said, there are several types of arthritis, and there is no “one size fits all” program.

Consulting with your physician, and often a physical therapist, is the best way to ensure that you have a workout plan developed specifically for you and adapted to your needs.

Doctors and therapists also know specific exercises for particularly painful joints. There may be exercises that are off-limits for people with a particular type of arthritis or when joints are swollen and inflamed.

People with arthritis should discuss their exercise plans with a doctor. Doctors who treat people with arthritis include rheumatologists, general practitioners, family doctors, internists and rehabilitation specialists (physiatrists).

The amount and form of exercise recommended for each individual will vary depending on which joints are involved, the amount of inflammation, how stable the joints are and whether a joint replacement procedure has been done.

Most commonly, however, there are three types of exercise that are best for people suffering from arthritis. They include the following:

  • Range-of-motion exercises, which help to maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness. This type of exercise helps maintain or increase flexibility.
  • Strengthening exercises help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight and improve overall function.

Weight control can be important to people who have arthritis because extra weight puts extra pressure on many joints. Some studies show that aerobic exercise can reduce inflammation in some joints.

How can you become stronger? This varies depending on personal preference, the type of arthritis involved and how active the inflammation is.

Strengthening one’s muscles can help take the burden off painful joints. Strength training can be done with small free weights, exercise machines, isometrics, elastic bands and resistive water exercises.

Correct positioning is critical because if done incorrectly, strengthening exercises can cause muscle tears, more pain and more joint swelling.

Start small and build up as you feel more confident.

  • Range-of-motion exercises can be done daily and should be done at least every other day.
  • Strengthening exercises also can be done daily and should be done at least every other day unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
  • Endurance exercises should be done for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.

If you are one of the many people afflicted by arthritis, you must make certain that you understand your condition thoroughly through your physician, and it is imperative that you hire a trainer who has the appropriate qualifications to help you. My friend was in pain after her sessions, and that is absolutely not acceptable. Had her trainer had the proper credentials, she could have avoided this setback.

So remember this: Advocate for yourself. Ask questions. Speak up. Don’t pay someone money and walk out of the gym feeling dejected and like a failure.

Arthritis may slow you down, but it’s not an excuse to quit. You owe it to yourself to fight back. So get going!

— Jennifer Osborn can be reached at go@ljworld.com.

Comments

serendipity 1 year, 8 months ago

Since I am a 64-year-old in the midst of an exercise program to rid me of pain I have had for 18 months, I have some opinions about your advice. In a nutshell, I think the personal trainer you engage makes all the difference. I found a terrific trainer last month and now I'm finally getting my pain to subside. I have had trainers in the past who didn't know how to step me through a careful progression of stretches and who didn't push me hard enough to get results. And I disagree that feeling pain is a signal to stop. During the sessions with my trainer I experience a lot of pain. But my pain overall is subsiding. Now my body is getting stronger and already I no longer hobble or pull myself up the stairs with the handrail.

I firmly believe I was on a very dangerous path. I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker and more debilitated. I see this everywhere around me in older people whose strength and agility is seeping away. I believe that halfway efforts don’t work for many of us. We need to take stock and make drastic changes in our lifestyles to avoid an old age of obesity, weakness, and eventual dependence on a walker or wheelchair. Of course, I am no expert on arthritis, but the challenge I am facing and the solution I finally found seemed pertinent.

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