Managing Arthritis Pain With Exercise
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 50 million adults have some form of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis — also known as "wear and tear" arthritis — which most often affects the weight-bearing joints in the knees, hips, neck, and lower back.
In osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage that cushions our joints begins to wear away. Cartilage does not heal or grow back, and over time it can become rough and frayed. Without healthy cartilage, our bones can no longer smoothly glide across one another, and movement begins to cause pain and stiffness.
When it is very severe and there is no remaining cartilage cushion, the joint becomes "bone on bone."
How Exercise Helps Arthritis Pain
Arthritis pain naturally causes most adults to slow down and limit activity. Not exercising, however, can result in more problems. Recent research shows that over time inactivity actually worsens osteoarthritis pain, and puts adults at greater risk for eventual total loss of mobility.
Because exercise is painful for so many adults with arthritis, it may be hard to understand how exercise helps to actually relieve pain. First, exercise increases blood flow to cartilage, bringing it the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
In addition, specific exercises will strengthen the muscles that surround your joints. The stronger your muscles are, the more weight they can handle. As a result, the bones in your joints carry less weight, and your damaged cartilage is better protected.
Having strong muscles to support your joints is even more important if you are overweight. And exercise, of course, can help you with weight loss. Losing just a few pounds can make a big difference in the amount of stress you place on your weight-bearing joints, like your hips and knees.
Studies have also found that people who exercise are less likely to be depressed or feel anxious. Plus exercise can help you manage stress and improve your sleep patterns. Getting a full night's sleep is especially important because arthritis symptoms often worsen when you are tired. With hip and knee arthritis, it can be helpful to sleep with a pillow under your knees or between your legs for comfort.
Living with osteoarthritis can be very challenging. Remember that there are many things you can do to lessen the impact arthritis has on your life. Regular, moderate exercise can help.
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Source: National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Health Interview Survey 2010.