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Ester Marsh: Exercise can ease arthritis pain

Since I had a lot of great feedback on last week’s heel spurs column, one request was something more about arthritis and exercise.

Is it OK to exercise with arthritis?

The inflammation of  joints results in swelling, stiffness and limited movement. There are many different types of arthritis and make sure you have your doctor diagnose which type you have and what he or she recommends.

Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. It is common in the “normal aging” process and can occur due wear and tear of the cartilage from injuries or overuse.

Cartilage normally protects the joint and allows for smooth movements. It also works as a shock absorber when you are walking or running. Without the usual amount of cartilage, the bones “rub” together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation) and stiffness.

Arthritis can occur in men and women of all ages. Over 23% of all adults, or 54 million people, suffer from arthritis. About 24 million adults are limited in their activities from arthritis, and more than 1 in 4 adults with arthritis report severe joint pain, according to the CDC.

Exercise is necessary to maintain healthy joints, relieve stiffness, reduce pain and fatigue, and improve muscle and bone strength. Your exercise program should be tailored to you.

If you are ready to start now, you can start with low impact exercising, like walking and bicycling. Swimming is wonderful exercise, especially for people with arthritis. The water gives your body buoyancy, which reduces stress on the hips, knees and spine.

A stretch program or gentle yoga class will help you improve your range of motion and will assist you in your ability to perform daily activities more comfortably. With the help of a knowledgeable trainer, you could start a light strength program to enhance your muscle tone.

Rest is just as important as exercise. Sleeping 8-10 hours per night and taking naps during the day can help you recover from “flare-ups” more quickly. Also avoid holding one position for too long, or positions and movements that place extra stress on your affected joints. If you end up in one position for too long, do stretches and move the muscles before you come out of it. You will be less stiff doing this.

Reduce stress since that can aggravate your symptoms. I always tell people that you need to listen to your body. Muscle pain and/or burn feel a lot different than joint pain. By slowly increasing your range of motion in your arthritic joint(s), strengthening the muscles and tendons, improve your circulation you will feel better and are able to handle arthritis “issues” a lot better.

Ester Marsh is Health & Fitness Director of the JF Hurley family YMCA.

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