Exercise is essential for joint health and mobility. Ironically, though, the people who need to stay mobile the most have difficulty doing so. Arthritis sufferers, young or old, can find it difficult to stay active due to joint pain, yet remaining physically active can help mobilise stiffened joints and ease the often debilitating condition.
Too many people wrongly associate arthritis with the old. Some young people are genetically prone to the disease, like those with hypermobilty (double-jointed). Others acquire it through excessive weight gain, and some young, talented sports players develop the problem due to joint injuries or just extra wear-and-tear – like a car engine that has done too much mileage.
Arthritis is the general term for the inflammation of a joint. There are around 100 different types of arthritis, which vary in their degree of pain and discomfort. The most common form of arthritis that typically, but not exclusively, occurs in older adults is osteoarthritis, also known as the degenerative joint disease. The pain associated with osteoarthritis occurs when the connective tissue wears away and exposes the bones. Bone rubbing on bone causes stiffness and pain, which is sometimes accompanied by swelling and heat.
Usually a person who is suffering from osteoarthritis only has problems in the weight-bearing joints of their hip, knee and spine. Inflammation flare-ups are usually best treated with rest, but osteoarthritis sufferers must alternate rest with activity to improve the function of their joints, not to mention keeping health in optimum condition.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or suffer from generally weak, troublesome joints but love to run, do high impact aerobics or play football, you will need to make some changes. The good news is that you can, and must, stay physically active without worsening your condition.
There are excellent forms of gentle exercise that can strengthen joints and all-important connective tissues, such as cartilage, ligaments and tendons. As with anyone, arthritis sufferers need to consider the health of their heart and lungs, physical endurance and muscle strength, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. What good are healthy joints if your cardio-fitness can’t keep up with you?
Cycling (cardiovascular): Unlike walking, running, aerobics and other weight-bearing activities, cycling is gentle on your joints but still provides a good cardiovascular workout and will help mobilise stiff joints. Either head to your gym, buy a cycling machine for your home or, better still, buy a bike and get some fresh air.
Stretching (range of motion): This helps to increases joint motion, muscle strength and flexibility. Fitness experts recommend doing at least a half an hour of stretching two or three times a week. If you are doing any other exercise, make sure you always stretch before and after to avoid sports injuries.
Strengthening: Gentle, regular weight-training will help you strengthen the muscles that help support vulnerable joints. This is one of the best ways you can help your joints function to their best capability.
Swimming (all-rounder): Swimming is an excellent choice as the water supports the weight of your body so your joints won’t have to. The water also provides your muscles with resistance, which is excellent for improving their strength.
Bracing: People with arthritic or weak, injury-prone joints can find valuable support during exercise from orthopaedic sports braces. For a selection of ready-to-fit and custom-made braces for ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, shoulder or back, visit Technology in Motion’s website: www.technologyinmotion.co.uk or call 020 8944 9919.
Note: Arthritis patients should be assessed before commencing an exercise programme. Speak to your doctor or consultant.