Active Aging Week – Exercise & Arthritis
Happy Active Aging Week!
Let’s talk about joint pain.
When we exercise and move joints that are arthritic, initially there may be some mild pain or discomfort. Sometimes the fear of this pain causes us to avoid exercise all together. This is very common. However, after a better understanding of your body’s response to arthritis and exercise, you may find that exercise will become your best friend. If you have arthritis, mild pain or discomfort is typical when you first begin to move. This may be in the morning when you wake up, or when you start your exercise routine. After a few minutes, your body adapts and you should start to feel a little better. During physical activity, our joints become more lubricated and blood circulates to the related areas. This is very important! Arthritis usually develops because of a lack of cartilage in between joints. Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue that keeps joint motion fluid by coating the surfaces of the bones in our joints, and by cushioning bones against impact. If our joints become bone on bone, arthritis begins to form. The increased blood flow and lubrication when movement occurs allows for less irritation when cartilage is diminished.
When exercising with arthritis, we need to consider the pain that we are feeling because of our arthritis. Think about the different types of pain. Ask yourself the following questions: What type of pain am I feeling (sharp, dull, soreness, shooting, etc.)? Where is the pain coming from (muscle, bone, or joint)? On a scale from 0 to 10, 0 being no pain and 10 being I have to go to the hospital, what is my pain right now? When assessing your pain levels, consider the following:
If you have moderate to severe joint pain during exercise:
Stop immediately. This may be a sign of too much inflammation in the joint or even joint damage that requires treatment.
If you have moderate to severe pain in a specific joint area (muscle) before you work out:
Soreness is not necessarily a bad thing, but you may want to focus on a different area of your body for your next workout. Allow that part of your body to rest for a few days after. For example, if your knees are bothering you, either decrease the intensity or maybe switch to the upper body instead. Continuing to put pressure on a joint that is sore could contribute to joint damage.
If you consistently have joint pain (not muscle pain) after exercise:
Try and look for or ask about low impact exercises. If you constantly need to take medication to alleviate the pain due to exercise, you may need to reevaluate your program and find other exercises better fit for you. Examples of low impact exercises are swimming, biking, and water aerobics.
If you occasionally have moderate to severe joint pain the day after you work out:
Cut back on the intensity of your workout. If you are really sore the next day, it may be an indication that you’re doing too much too quickly. An example of this would be trading in the elliptical for some pool aerobic exercise.
The bottom line: Exercise is crucial in the treatment of arthritis! The goal of an exercise program should not be to eliminate the pain, but rather to minimize pain and use it as an indicator. More personalized programs can be beneficial to better adapt to specific health issues and if you have arthritis in specific joints. One important aspect to the treatment of arthritis is to keep it moving (Yes, that “use it or lose it” saying we have heard time and time again is kind of true in this sense). Movement allows us to be functional; to be independent. Skipping exercise all together in some cases can make the problem worse. Given the cost-benefit of exercise and the fact that all the necessary resources are here in your backyard, it’s worth a try. Feel free to peruse the Arthritis Foundation’s website for further information on this topic.
Have an active week!