Osteoarthritis - How to Stay Active with Pain

Arthritis is a health condition marked by inflammation or swelling of the joints.  It can cause chronic pain and may also limit movement.  While there are many types of arthritis, osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) is the most common.

Researchers have yet to find an exact cause of osteoarthritis.  It may be hereditary, but it appears to be the result of wear and tear on joints over time.  Typically, cartilage provides cushioning between the bones in a joint and allows a person to move easily with comfort. 

In some individuals, cartilage deteriorates with joint use, which is the beginning of osteoarthritis. Over time, the cartilage may wear so much that the bones rub against each other causing thickening of bone ends.  Small pieces of cartilage may break loose, creating inflammation, pain and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis is common in aging individuals, athletes and people with jobs that require repetitive movement.  Joint injury can sometimes increase the risk of osteoarthritis in a particular joint, and excessive weight can also potentially cause problems.

Some people can find it difficult to maintain an active lifestyle when dealing with bouts of pain and stiffness.  Here are a few tips:

  • Lose extra weight to keep unneeded pressure off of knee and hip joints.   Excess body weight is a risk factor for the development and progression of osteoarthritis. For every pound of weight on the body, knee joints experience three pounds of added stress, and hip joints experience six pounds of added stress.
  • If possible, consult with a physical therapist.
  • Use a cane, walker or other devices made to protect joints.
  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • Try hot and cold treatments to ease pain and stiffness from arthritis.
  • Practice relaxation.  Stress can make the body tense, which can contribute to pain associated with osteoarthritis. Relaxation can promote a sense of control and well-being that makes it easier to manage pain - try massage, meditation or yoga.
  • Exercise regularly for short periods.  Some with osteoarthritis worry that exercise can harm joints and cause more pain, but research shows that exercise is an effective non-drug treatment for pain relief and better movement.  Range of motion (or flexibility), aerobic and strengthening exercises are good choices.  Each type helps maintain and improve the ability to move and function.

-Range of motion exercise concentrates on moving through a full range of motion natural for that joint. This can include gentle stretching and other movements that take joints through their full span.  Done regularly, these exercises can help maintain and even improve flexibility and reduce pain.

-Several types of low-impact aerobic exercise can help those with osteoarthritis remain active, including walking, cycling or water exercise. Aquatic exercise lowers the amount of stress on joints, which can be helpful for pain, and natural water pressure also helps reduce swelling.

-Strengthening exercise helps maintain and enhance muscle strength. Strong, healthy muscles can give affected joints support and protection.

The idea of engaging in any kind of physical activity can be daunting to one afflicted with osteoarthritis.  Try a few of the tips above to help relieve inflammation, pain and stiffness and enjoy a more active lifestyle. 


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