When I was very young, I used to hear my mom talk about her “Uncle Arthur” coming for a visit. Well, I had lots of relatives, but I had never met this particular one. A few days would go by and then a week and still no “Uncle Arthur”. I did however notice that my mom would be moving a little slower and complain more about aches and pains during these announced “Uncle Arthur” visits. It was not until I got a little older that I learned this phrase was my mom’s way of telling the family her arthritis was flaring up. Now as an adult, I see this “uncle” impacting my mother-in-law on a daily basis and though some days are better than others, arthritis pain is no friend of the family.
The Arthritis Foundation states that arthritis “is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease”. The joint symptoms range from swelling and stiffness to a significant loss of range of motion. Did you know that there are over 100 different types of arthritis? The Arthritis Foundation’s website states that this joint disease impacts over 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States (US). It is the number one cause of disability in the US and it does not discriminate against race, age, or sex. However, they did point out that it was more common in women.
With the effects on joints that this disease has, things like shaking someone’s hand, bending down to pick up a grandchild, climbing the steps, or even trying to hold a glass of water can be extremely painful. The damage done to joints is something that is very visible when I see my mother-in-law’s hands. Her finger joints are always swollen and look knobby making it very difficult for her to close her hand as in making a fist. The Arthritis Foundation reports that there are forms of this disease that go beyond the joints and cause damage to the heart, the eyes, your lungs, kidneys and even your skin.
The most common form of arthritis, from the over 100 types that exist, is Osteoarthritis (OA). It is also known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis. This develops when the cartilage on the ends of your bones wears away and the bones start to rub against each other. That bone on bone causes swelling and stiffness that is very painful. Clients that I have experience working with that have OA, are dealing with pain in their knees and hips. OA also affects the spine, finger joints and toes. Some of the risk factors associated with OA are excessive weight (which places heavier loads on your joints), family history, age, or even an injury you may have incurred. I remember seeing some of my childhood football heros a few years ago at a charity golf event. Most of the OA impacting these athletes was from the injuries they sustained over their careers. You could see it in their posture, in their knees when they walked and in their hands when gripping a golf club.
There are several things you can do to help manage the effects of OA and I want to share a couple with you. First you need to maintain an active lifestyle. You have heard the saying a body in motion stays in motion, right? Newton’s First Law has become a commercial for a major arthritis medication pharmaceutical. Staying physically active is very important as it will help you maintain a healthy weight and allow you do perform your many activities of daily life (ADLs) that I have written many times about the last couple of years. This means getting off the couch and moving. The rest of that Newton’s Law stated above, says a body at rest will stay at rest. What happens when things stay in place and don’t move? Well, depending on the object, they get rusty, dusty, moldy, and just start looking older than they are, right? So, to take a slogan from a well-known company, don’t just sit there and think about it, “Do It”.
The second thing I want you to start doing is strength training. You need to be exercising to strengthen the muscles supporting your joints. The number one joint issue I see in my center involves the knee. I have folks come in all the time asking how they can make their knees stronger. The knee is the largest joint that joins the thigh bone to the shin bone. It is made up of bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. What we focus on strengthening are the dominant muscles that support the knee which are the quadriceps (front of thigh), the hamstrings (back of thighs) and the calves. These muscles work to flex and extend and to stabilize the knee joint. There are so many different exercises you can do, both loaded and unloaded, that it would make an article all on to itself, so stay tuned for a future writing on healthy knees. For right now, I want you to get moving, start exercising and make your “Uncle Arthur” visit a delayed or more manageable encounter. As always, I wish you great health and fitness. Bob.