Rheumatoid Arthritis and Exercise
First recorded in an Indian text called Caraka Samhita in 123 A.D., rheumatoid arthritis has been causing joint pain throughout the ages. It is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic joint inflammation, resulting in impaired joint function, disfigurement, and eventual loss of mobility.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Develops
Scientists are unsure as to why this disease develops. Factors such as age, hormones, and family history could all be involved.
The actual mechanism of the disease is slightly better understood, involving the misdirected actions of the immune system. In rheumatoid arthritis, faulty white blood cells see the cells that make up the synovial membranes (which surround joints) as foreign and do everything in their power to destroy them. This attack on synovial membranes causes them to become inflamed, often pushing them inside and outside of the joint. This pressure can damage surrounding bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels, much of which is irreparable. The joint can deteriorate so much that function is not only reduced, but lost, requiring complete joint replacement.
Those with rheumatoid arthritis often experience fatigue, weakness, low-grade fever, stiffness of joints (most pronounced in the morning), muscle pain, puffy and reddened hands, loss of appetite or depression, or rheumatoid nodules (painful lumps of tissue under the skin). Symptoms can appear and disappear with immune activity, often going into remission for several days to several months.
Exercise Keeps Joints Healthy
The benefits of exercise are well known and practically endless. It is especially important to maintain joint function for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Mild exercise strengthens muscles surrounding joints as well as maintaining bone strength, both of which assist in joint function.
Swimming is the best form of exercise for those with joint pain. Water's buoyancy reduces the pressure of body weight on joints by more than 50%. Its resistance allows for an intense workout while maintaining a comfortable body temperature. The gentle pressure of water can also massage inflamed joints and sore muscles.
Stretching is also a great way to improve joint flexibility. If you don't know many stretches or are unsure which one could benefit you most, look through exercise websites on the internet. Holding stretches for 10 to 30 seconds can relax muscles and improve circulation.
Exercise can also help to relieve fatigue and stress and leave you feeling empowered. Doing exercises with friends is a great way to stay connected and motivated.
Other Ways to Protect Your Joints
Be sure to move your joints through their full range of motion at least once a day to prevent stiffness. Use assistive devices to take the pressure off joints, such as jar and bottle openers. There may be devices you haven't even seen before, so don't be afraid to do some research. Depending on what joints cause you pain, use other joints accordingly; if your fingers ache, use your wrists when able. Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't have to be debilitating. Regular exercise can be a fun activity with friends, relaxing after a stressful day, and incredibly helpful for arthritic joints.
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon