A few of the common pains of arthritis are the chronic pain, lack of sleep and energy likely due to the pain waking you up in the middle of the night and general fatigue, and limited mobility not just due to pain but also joint erosion.
What is arthritis? Well, there are about 100 different types of arthritis. The two we are focusing on and the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This is the form that occurs over years of overuse of a joint, and incidence can speed up from bad body mechanics, injuries, and obesity. Fatigue is not usually associated with this form of arthritis, though everyone can respond differently. The overall theme of this form of arthritis occurring is the wearing away of the “cushion” in between your bones. Damaged cartilage can make it painful for these joints to move or bear weight. Try to imagine the bearings in a pully. Think of how smoothly it moves when these bearings are new. Now imagine when those bearings begin to rust or wear. The bearings start squeaking, don’t move as smoothly, and usually need to be replaced. If you don’t replace your bearings, irreversible damage can occur to the pully itself. That’s what is happening in the joints, the difference is it is not at all simple to replace our bearings. And damage to our bones is even more complicated. The best thing to do is maintain those bearings before they wear. Because you’re only going to get one set.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system begins attacking our joints. Stupid immune system. This assault on our joints can lead to inflammation and severe joint pain, if gone untreated. Doctors have no idea why RA occurs in the first place. It is speculated that certain infections that attack the joints confuse the immune system and the immune system begins to attack the joints altogether, but this is just speculation. (Research tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-1 for more information) Lumps can form in the knuckles, elbows, and heels over time known as rheumatoid nodules. The most likely cause of these nodules is repeated pressure on a given joint, as with bed-ridden patients. they tend to form on the joints that make the most contact with the bed, but it also appears in patients that smoke as well as patients that take the drug “methotrexate” which is a common RA treatment drug. These nodules are another phenomenon that doctors are still unclear about. On that I will digress, but perhaps in the future I will provide more studies on the cause of RA and its symptoms. When more data is available. Just know there are literally hundreds of research bodies studying this disease, so we are trying to help.
So, that’s WHAT they are. Now let’s talk about fitness as it relates to these conditions. Here are a few articles I’d like to talk about:
2003 National Arthritis Foundation did 8-week aquatic and on land training program that both improved functional fitness, ADLs, and isometric muscle strength in older adults with arthritis
2015 Rheumatology at Oxford found RA patients to have surprisingly low VO2Max, the major indicator of cardiovascular fitness, which could mean a much higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.
British Medical Journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases posted an article in 2012 that further states that exercise, both aerobic and resistance, improved the likelihood of getting diabetes or heart disease.
British Medical Journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases posted an article in 1998 that suggested knee pain caused by osteoarthritis was reduced with a simple home-based quadriceps strengthening program.
Article by Arthritis Care & Research at the American College of Rheumatology cross referenced 33 different studies that provided data that suggested community based exercise programs improved pain and physical function in nearly 2,000 people.
Let’s face it. Arthritis sucks. It hurts, and makes us not want to move. However, not moving is the real enemy. Just like in people without arthritis, not moving makes everything worse. Diabetes and heart disease are 2 of the greatest causes of people dying far too young. If you have bad arthritis, I know it sucks, but you have to try to stay active. Find the things that hurt you the least and work really hard with those things. Lots of studies suggest things like tai-chi and especially aqua aerobics and swimming are some of the least painful ways to see improvement in pain and function, despite studies not being completely conclusive.
Ways to prevent having osteoarthritis in the first place are avoid doing things that cause a lot of stress on the joints while you are young. Take care of your body. I don’t mean that you can’t work hard, but consider what all the things you are doing are doing to your joints. Having bad body mechanics whether you are working out, on the job, or just picking up a piece of paper on the ground, be sure you are using proper body mechanics so your body doesn’t wear out as fast. Not having good shoes and the constant pounding of running can likely lead to arthritis in the ankles, knees and hips. Trying exercises you have not trained for such as those seen in gymnastics and Crossfit can also cause you a lot of issues in your future. Take care of your body, because remember, your health will not be ignored forever.
As for those with rheumatoid arthritis. All I can say it do the exercise so that you hurt a little less. There are no conclusive studies as to why rheumatoid arthritis occurs, only speculation, but what is obvious is that it makes it very hard for the patients to exercise. But you can’t give up your exercise. Again, find the thing that hurts the least and do that. Fight through when some things to hurt. If you let the pain stop you from an active lifestyle, you become more at risk for those big killers, and I don’t want that for you. I want to stick around and see your grandkids grow up. You have to have the resolve to say, “This disease is not going to control me. I will not be beaten.”
Don’t give up. Fitness is a big deal. Find a way to make it a priority. Do it like your life depended on it.
Alright guys. If you learned anything from this blog or know someone that you think could learn something, share it in the place that you share things, be sure to check out my podcast, be sure to subscribe to my emailing list here for all of this and more, and always, thanks for reading!