Combat Arthritis Effectively With Simple Exercises and Lifestyle Changes
This article about how to combat arthritis was written By Roy Rivera, Jr., PT, PhD, DPT, MCHES and Ernie Gutierrez, PT, DPT, Crom Rehabilitation
To Combat Arthritis, You Must First Understand What Arthritis Is
There are many forms of arthritis that people might be diagnosed with but the most common is called osteoarthritis (OA). This condition affects millions of people worldwide.
Although OA commonly impacts multiple joints in the human body, a few are more commonly affected than others. These are:
Osteoarthritis can present in many ways, depending on the severity of the condition. Examples of the symptoms commonly associated with this diagnosis include
- Pain with movement
- Joint stiffness
- Swelling of the limbs
- Decreased muscle strength
OA is often frustrating because it limits activity. This extends beyond partaking in simple, everyday tasks, too. With an arthritis diagnosis, people are sometimes unable to jog, hike, or even squat, for example. These limitations can have a tremendous impact on quality of life.
Understand the Risk Factors that May Lead to an Arthritis Diagnosis
As with many diseases, there are risk factors that make an individual more likely to receive an OA diagnosis.
Two types of risk factors exist, modifiable and non-modifiable.
Modifiable risk factors are traits that people can change. They include body weight and the amount of use a joint gets.
Non-modifiable risk factors are qualities that are unable to be changed. Examples of these risk factors are age, genetics and gender.
Combat Arthritis by Managing it the Right Way
Current management techniques for arthritis include an array of medications. These are used to help manage pain, swelling, and help stop or reduce the progression of the disease. They help to make people comfortable throughout their days, and reduce the level of limitation that many patients experience.
However, an ample amount of research exists to prove that exercise and physical therapy are very beneficial at treating OA. The results of many studies in modern medical literature prove using physical exercise as an alternative to medications for OA is a great decision. They also conclude that physical activity serves three specific purposes for those trying to combat arthritis.
Physical Therapy to Combat Arthritis
When done properly and under the care and supervision of a trained physical therapist, the sessions are very helpful. Each session and activity impacts patients differently, but all of them work to do the following.
- Preserve function
- Decrease pain and fatigue
- Increase muscle strength and flexibility.
Often, the combination of medications and exercise is ideal for managing OA when there are multiple, complex symptoms. Working with a medical team that understands your overall health and the needs of your diagnosis is essential when learning to combat arthritis.
Due to COVID-19 spreading across the globe, the world has seen a drastic shift in the way humans live their lives and socially interact.
Parks, gyms, malls, and restaurants have been closed. In many places, this has been the case for months. Millions of people are dealing with orders to stay home, indoors and away from others. This limited social interaction has also influenced physical activity and has led to many individuals becoming inactive.
For an OA patient, inactivity is not a good choice.
The effects of physical inactivity can be devastating. Often, being inactive serves as a catalyst to the development of various chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. When coupled with OA, this makes an already difficult to manage lifestyle that much more difficult to live.
How can Physical Therapy Help OA Patients?
Unfortunately, it is a common misconception that exercise causes greater joint damage and/or pain for individuals with OA. Contrary to this perception, research has shown that exercise can in fact decrease pain and improve quality of life.
Stretching, strengthening, and aerobic activity are examples of various types of activities for patients that have been shown to improve symptoms of OA. But how is this possible, especially in a time when people are encouraged to remain at home?
Stretching assists with keeping joints flexible enough to move through normal ranges of motion. Examples of “at home” stretching exercises recommended by many PTs for arthritis patients are:
- Tai Chi
Strengthening helps to provide protection and stability to joints. Exercises like squats, pushups and pullups require no extra equipment. Another perk? The number of each can (and should) be modified to meet individual needs.
Aerobic activity assists with maintaining bodily function.
A physical therapist, like those with Crom Rehabilitation is an excellent resource for help with modifying exercises and identifying those that will benefit you the most. In addition to the above benefits, exercises recommended by a PT also serve to improve balance and coordination.
Another good way to keep the OA at bay is to engage in aerobic exercises that require minimal resistance or loading on affected joints.
For example, walking, bicycling, and swimming are activities that help increase blood flow to joints. These also provide a minimal amount of resistance. Swimming and aquatic exercises decrease pain and swelling, and increase muscle strength in individuals with OA. The buoyancy of the water also helps to off-load the affected joints and thus decrease pain even further.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), adults are encouraged to participate in 2.5 hours to 5 hours of moderate-intensity activity per week. For those capable of more intense activity,1.25 hours to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week is recommended.
An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is also acceptable. The U.S. Department of HHS also states that adults should engage in strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity 2 or more days per week.
Following these guidelines isn’t an exact science, but it’s a place to start. For many, being home the last few months has presented the time (and ability) to focus on individual health. This means finding ways to effectively exercise at home. Though arthritis typically impacts the aged generations more severely, even young people suffer from this condition, too.
Since many doctors and healthcare professionals recommend not going for an in person visit whenever possible (especially for “at risk” groups), one option for beginning an at home physical therapy program to combat arthritis is telehealth. A great way to get answers and receive guidance from professionals, telehealth makes it simple every step of the way, and the BetterTelehealth platform is no exception.
As you can see, a diagnosis of OA doesn’t mean that you are unable to exercise or should cut back from physical activity.
On the contrary, you should increase your levels of exercise and modify them to treat your symptoms as needed.
An evaluation with your physical therapist or family physician will help get the ball rolling toward a healthier you. To start, consider using the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the BetterPT app. Both options make it possible for you to schedule an appointment (either in person or via telehealth). In addition? This option will help you learn more about physical therapy itself and the people that provide it.
With an OA diagnosis, it is critical to participate in exercise and increased levels of physical activity. Not only do these two types of actions keep the body healthy, they also serve to fight off chronic disease, allowing you to combat arthritis effectively.
Dr. Roy Rivera, Jr. is the CEO and Director of Rehabilitation for Crom Rehabilitation. Dr. Rivera is a Master certified health education specialist who practices with an exercise-based treatment philosophy. He studied and received his undergraduate, graduate and Master’s degrees in Texas, and has practiced in Houston since 2005. In addition to working in the physical therapy field with patients, Dr. Rivera has led continuing education classes and workshops, as well as lectures on ethics and existing policies.
Dr. Ernie Gutierrez is a certified clinical instructor and licensed physical therapist. He has practiced in Texas since 2018. With experience across a variety of areas including sports medicine, orthopedic conditions, pediatric and pulmonary rehabilitation, Dr. Gutierrez focuses on providing the community at large with resources pertaining to health and wellness, advocacy and continued education.