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Joint Pain Forum – News you can use!

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Oh my aching joints

June 8, 2007

Exercise more, and smarter, to alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis

Recently, while attending one of my daughter's high school swim meets, I watched how effortlessly the teenagers hopped up and down the bleachers. I recall doing similar things without a second thought. However, like other 40-somethings, I now have to pay attention to how I do things. If I exhibited the reckless abandon of my youth, chances are I would aggravate some of the underlying joint conditions I've collected over time.

The same is true for those who suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joint spaces wears down and loses its integrity. As a result, the bony surface of the joint can become damaged and rough, and moving it can be painful. There can be swelling in the joint, as well as limitation of its range of motion. Osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in the hands, back, hips and knees.

Here are two things that you can do to improve your osteoarthritis:

Lose weight. Those who have OA in a weight-bearing joint (the feet, hips, knees, etc.) can significantly improve the function of the joint by taking the weight off it. I realize this is easy to say and sometimes hard to do, but it needs to be a primary goal if you suffer from OA.

Exercise smarter, not harder. Because exertion of the joint is associated with pain, many OA sufferers find themselves doing less and less physical activity. But these folks should be exercising more, not less -- and exercising smarter, not harder.

As we get older, the muscles of the body tend to atrophy (become smaller, less toned and weaker). But strong, toned muscles help to support the joints they surround. Think of them as joint "shock absorbers." As the muscles weaken with age, their capacity to absorb the shock for the joints diminishes, worsening OA symptoms. Here's the catch: You have to start slowly.

Because this is a lifelong endeavor, don't overdo itat the beginning. An appropriate exercise program should include low-impact aerobic exercise, stretching and muscle-strengthening. Working with a personal trainer is a great way to start. He or she can assess your limitations and ease you into a program that's both effective and right for you. For those who have more serious joint issues, I often make a referral to a physical therapist. That way, patients can learn in greater detail about what their initial limitations may be.

Keep in mind that a joint that has OA won't be cured, so an activity program should be part of the ongoing treatment plan. Leave behind the "no pain, no gain" mentality and focus on exercising frequently and moderately. Consider the activity "medication" for the arthritis. If you take too little of the "medicine" or take it infrequently, you won't get its benefit. If you take too much, there are problematic side effects. However, take it in the right amount at the right frequency and your joints will be happy you did.

Arthritic joints can't be cured, but staying active will help relieve your symptoms.

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