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On the Move: Keep Arthritis Conditions at Bay with Exercise

Mar 1, 2008
In combination with medication, a tailored arthritis exercise program can promote joint and pain relief, and preserve joint structure and function.

Once arthritis sets in, the stiffness, pain and swelling associated with the condition can severely reduce the range of motion of joints, or in other words, the distance joints can move in certain directions. It might be tempting to avoid physical activity because of pain or discomfort, but this can actually lead to significant muscle loss and excessive weight gain. According to WebMD, exercise, as part of a comprehensive arthritis treatment plan, can improve mobility, muscle strength, and overall physical conditioning, while helping you maintain a healthy weight.

It's important to first understand what type of arthritis you have and its symptoms and then you and your physician or physical therapist can develop a program of physical activity to reduce the damaging effects of arthritis and promote optimal health. A tailored exercise program should include a balance of three types of exercise: range-of-motion, strengthening, and endurance, which will aide in pain relief and protect the joints from further damage. In addition, an exercise program can help maintain normal joint movement, help maintain weight to reduce pressure on joints, keep bone and cartilage tissue strong, and improve cardiovascular fitness.

In an effort to help relieve pain, people with arthritis often keep their affected joints bent - especially those in the knees, hands and fingers - because it's more comfortable in that position. While this may temporarily relieve discomfort, holding a joint in the same position for too long can cause permanent loss of mobility and hinder the ability to perform daily tasks.

Range-of-motion exercises are important for maintaining normal joint function by increasing the preserving joint mobility and flexibility. This group of exercises gently straightens and bends the joints in a controlled manner as far as they can comfortably go. During the course of the exercise program, the joints are stretched progressively farther until near-normal range is achieved and maintained. In addition to preserving joint function, the exercises are also a form of warm-up and stretching, and should be done prior to performing any strengthening or endurance exercises. A physician or physical therapist can provide you with instructions on how to perform range-of-motion exercises.

Performing strengthening exercises may seem an uncomfortable concept to those suffering from arthritis. However, strong muscles help keep weak joints stable and protect them from further damage. Strengthening exercises that target specific muscle groups are an integral part of arthritis treatment.

Your physician can provide you with types of strengthening exercises that can maintain or increase muscle tissue to support your muscles without aggravating the joints. Isometric exercises can be done without bending painful joints, and involve no joint movement but rather strengthen muscle groups by using an alternating series of isolated muscle flexes and periods of relaxation. Another form of strengthening exercise, isotonics involve joint mobility but are more intensive, achieving strength development through increased repetitions or by introducing increasing weight resistance with dumbbells or stretch bands. You will want to first review with your doctor or physical therapist how to safely and effectively perform isometric and isotonic exercises before beginning an exercise program.

Hydrotherapy is another very effective exercise treatment for arthritis. Also called "aqua therapy" (water therapy), this exercise program is performed in a large pool. Aqua therapy is often easier on painful joint because the buoyancy of water takes some weight off the painful joints while providing resistance training.

Endurance exercise is aerobic exercise, which includes any activity that increases the heart rate for a prolonged period of time. While building stronger muscles and providing the body with oxygen, endurance exercise is fundamental for controlling weight. Maintaining weight helps to reduce excess pressure on joints, providing joint and pain relief.

Although peak benefits of endurance exercise are achieved when an aerobic activity is performed for at least 30 minutes, aerobic exercise can also be spread out in smaller segments of time throughout the day. Examples of aerobic activity include swimming, walking, low-impact aerobics, dance, skiing, and biking. It can also include everyday activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or golf.

Those starting an exercise program for treatment of arthritis should begin conditioning with range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Endurance exercise should be added gradually, after you feel comfortable with your current fitness level. Be cautious when exercising the first several weeks as improper levels of exercise can make symptoms of arthritis worse. Choose an exercise program you enjoy so that you will maintain it, and begin it slowly. Making exercise a part of your daily routine will provide great benefits in pain relief and improve your overall health.
About the Author
Geologix Inc. manufactures products using a proprietary formula featuring 34 natural minerals contained in the ancient sea water from the famous Michigan Basin -- a concentration of minerals higher than that found in any known body of water in the world. Mineral Essentials focuses on spa, skin care, and massage products to moisturize and provide anti-aging protection for great skin. Mineral Essentials, and Acheaway
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