Arthritis – Understanding Your Aching Joints

Arthritis
Arthritis is a condition affecting the joints, where the quality of the joint surface degrades and can lead to stiffness, tenderness, and swelling. There are several types of arthritis, the most common being Osteoarthritis (OA), affecting 1 in 5 Australians over the age of 45, or 1 in 3 people over 75 years old. OA is a multifactorial condition, with many contributing factors that lead to a decline in joint health. There are also other types of arthritis that can be due to autoimmune processes; like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Psoriatic Arthritis, so it’s important to be correctly diagnosed to get the care you need.

What is Osteoarthritis?
People commonly think of OA as “wear and tear”, but that isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, cartilage can respond quite well to load, as seen in studies of recreational runners that have shown their joint health to be superior to their inactive counterparts. Rather than just mechanical load on a joint (i.e. running, jumping, etc), OA is primarily caused by metabolic processes (i.e. chemicals, hormones and proteins in the blood) which can be directly improved with healthy lifestyle choices, such as diet and physical activity.

Osteoarthritis Management
People with arthritis often reduce their physical activity in an attempt to minimise the “damage”. They may start walking less and even cease the leisure activities they love most. But what they’re really sacrificing is cardiovascular health, mood, mental wellbeing, bone density, muscular strength, and increasing their risk of a variety of chronic conditions. And because OA has an important metabolic component, staying active can actually improve joint health!

There are several factors that can be utilised to assist in OA management.

  • Managing load; working out what activities stir up the joint pain and decreasing or modifying how they are undertaken.
  • Diet; healthy foods can assist in maintaining good metabolic function and decreasing inflammation, managing weight and boosting energy levels.
  • Pacing; having adequate rest and recovery between bouts of activity. This includes breaking up one long activity such as vacuuming the house, into shorter bouts with rest breaks or rest days in between.
  • Graded exposure; starting with a tolerable amount of activity and very gradually increasing your exposure to the activity, as tolerance rises.
  • Resistance training; build up muscle strength, balance and movement quality to decrease joint forces during activity

To learn more about Pacing and Graded Exposure, read our blog “Simple Tips for Living with Osteoarthritis”. For more information on the causes of Osteoarthritis and how to overcome it, read our blog “6 Golden Rules for Osteoarthritis Management”.

Simple Tips for Staying Active with Arthritis

Living with Arthritis

Living with persistent joint pain can make exercise seem like an impossible mission. However, movement is one of the best things you can do for a joint that has some arthritic changes. To better understand what arthritis is and what causes it, visit our previous blog “6 Golden Rules for Osteoarthritis“.

Motion is Lotion, Movement is Medicine

For too long the public have been led to believe that joints degrade as we age, and the more punishment you put it through, the more it degrades. However, movement is good for the joint.

  • Compression (eg: the impact on the knee during running and walking) stimulates growth of the good protective cartilage linings in the joint.
  • Movement can help with maintaining weight, which can help with reducing the load.
  • Building strength and muscle mass can help distribute the forces across the whole limb, rather than relying on the joint to take the weight.
  • Learning good movement patterns gives your body more options, so that it doesn’t rely on one joint too frequently.
  • Healthy lifestyle can decrease inflammation and have a direct improvement on pain and joint health.

Pacing

The key to exercising or doing daily tasks is pacing. Pacing means slowing down and doing less. If you’ve been in pain for a long time, or if you’ve been less active than in previous years, then it’s unlikely that you can do the same amount of physical activity. It’s about breaking up tasks into a series of smaller bouts. If your goal is to vacuum the house, you may need to do it one room at a time, having a rest in between each – whether that’s for a few minutes, an hour, or a day.

Graded Exposure

The second key component to increasing your pain-free activity is graded exposure. Graded exposure means steadily increasing your exposure to a given task or physical activity. If you’ve been vacuuming one room per day for the last 2 weeks and it hasn’t stirred up your joint pain, then you’re likely ready to increase to 2 rooms per day. After a couple more weeks you can likely do 3 rooms, then in another fortnight doing half the house. Over a period of weeks and months, you can slowly expose your body to the task that was once flaring it up.

Try This

Walking is often an aggravating activity, but usually people have an amount they can cope with before pain sets in. Think about your baseline, can you walk your block? Maybe walking to your letterbox is as far as you can handle? Whatever is your current yardstick, do that consistently for 2 weeks and then slightly increase the time or distance by 5-10%. Every 1-2 weeks increase your time and distance, ensuring you have lots of rest and recovery to complement it.