Arthritis is a widely varied condition that is categorized by inflammation and stiffness in the joints, and while common, does not mean that the symptoms and pain that come along with it are "normal." The Arthritis Foundation recently sent out their newsletter reminding all of us, not just those who are diagnosed with arthritis, that exercise is crucial for the health of our bones and joints.
What exactly causes the joint swelling in arthritis?
Each joint is made up of the two bones involved, the lining that covers these bones (synovium), and fluid (synovial fluid). The swelling can be caused by either the inflammation of the synovium itself or by the increase in the synovial fluid of that joint. Your body's immune system sends inflammatory cells, inflammatory proteins, and more blood into the joint, causing a warm, full, and stiff feeling.
What can you do to prevent arthritis flareups?
Exercise. Gentle exercises that do not involve too much pressure on your joints are best. Exercise increases circulation and helps pump more healthy blood and nutrients into your joints that can then take away some of the "bad stuff," like the inflammatory proteins mentioned earlier.
Check out the following gentle exercises:
- Daily routine of gentle passive and active range-of-motion exercises: Passive range of motion means that you are moving the body part using an outside force, e.g. using your left hand to move your right index finger. Active range of motion means that you are not using any outside force to make that movement. If you have pain in your hands, you want to first gently use one of your hands to move each and every single joint in each finger and wrist of the opposite hand through its range. Then you want to slowly put both hands into a bear claw position, slowly close your hands into gentle fists, and then slowly open then again. Try to do this throughout the day, not just in the morning or at night.
- Walking: Walking is relatively low impact and is an aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up and your blood flowing.
- Dance: Turn on the music and dance a little! You do want to avoid too much impact on your joints though, so if you have arthritis in your knees, you will want to avoid too many twists and jumps.
- Swimming: When you are in the water, your joints are more protected since the water carries some of your weight. Many local swimming pools and community centers have water aerobic classes that you can take.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art form that involves slow and gentle movements combined with breathing techniques and is recognized as another form of effective arthritis treatment. Check out the Tai Chi for Arthritis video by Paul Lam of the Tai Chi For Health Institute. His work is also referenced in the Arthritis Foundation's page regarding Tai Chi for Arthritis.
Please consult a doctor before you begin any of these exercises. Also, remember, you want to do these gentle exercises before you actually experience any pain because once you feel the pain, you are essentially just "chasing the pain away." If you feel pain at any time during these exercises, please stop and make a note of the amount of time you tried the exercise. If you would like to try the exercise again, next time, be sure to cut down that amount of time so that you do not cause yourself pain. As always, don't forget to use SMART goals when incorporating a new exercise into your daily routine.
Please keep a lookout for another post, coming soon, for tips on what you can do when you have an acute flareup.