CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
I am 39 and have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. It hurts to exercise, but I have always been active and still try to take step and other classes. It mostly bothers me the day after exercise. I know it is normal to have some pain when we work out, but this doesn't go away like it used to. I am gaining weight and am concerned that if I cut out what I am doing, it will really be a problem. Doctor says take it easy. Can you give me suggestions? I am really worried about doing damage to my joints if I continue. -- Darlene
Statistically, one in seven Americans is affected by arthritis, and it is predicted that by 2020 about one in five will experience some debilitation after the age of 45.
Osteoarthritis is one form of arthritis. Others include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis and lupus. All can affect the supporting structures in your body such as your muscles, tendons and ligaments, which then cause pain during movement.
Joints affected by osteoarthritis have little or no cartilage left for protection. This causes friction because the bones rub against one another. It is referred to as the "wear and tear" arthritis.
As you know, this is painful and results in swelling and reduced freedom of motion. Your doctor is correct, of course, with his advice about taking it easy. If care is not taken, damage to the joint can happen and causes further deterioration.
However, research shows that exercise is not only permissible with arthritis, it is absolutely necessary to keep joints as healthy as possible and retain range of motion. Knowing how to do the right type and the right amount is the secret. In fact, exercise is proved to the best nondrug treatment for reducing pain and improving function.
With osteoarthritis -- as with everyone -- you need three types of physical activity:
1. Range-of-motion or flexibility exercise
2. Cardiovascular or endurance exercise
3. Strengthening exercise
Each serves an important purpose.
Range-of-motion exercise helps your joints move through their full range. Stiffness and pain often leads people to shy away from physical activity, which in turn exacerbates the problem.
Cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart and lungs, which reduces fatigue and gives you energy. It will also help manage your weight by burning lots of calories. And aerobic activity helps you sleep and improves your mood -- two of the most common complaints of those living with osteoarthritis.
Finally, strength training helps maintain and improve your muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect your joints affected by osteoarthritis.