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Physical Activity Can Help to Lessen Arthritis Symptoms


September 22, 2021 Posted in: Primary Care , Health & Wellness  3 minute read time

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago, many people have significantly decreased physical activity. According to a recent survey, Americans are sitting four more hours, on average, each day than they did before the pandemic. This can worsen symptoms of arthritis.

Physical activity can help to lessen pain from arthritis, as well as improve the function in the affected joints. It can be as simple as walking, biking and swimming. Physical activity can help people with arthritis by delaying the onset of disability and helping to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Arthritis is fairly common across the U.S., affecting more than 54 million people, or 23% of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rate is even higher in Kentucky, with about 33.5% percent of adults suffering from the joint condition. Across the commonwealth, arthritis prevalence is higher among women than men, 37.7% vs. 29.1%, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, often referred to as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease.

Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint condition, and occurs when bone-protecting cartilage begins to rub, break down and cause the bones within the joint to rub together. While it is most common in older adults, osteoarthritis can affect young adults as well.

Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease that can damage joints and cause pain on both sides of your body.

Symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have overlap.  However, there is increased inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, most commonly associated with redness of the skin, and joint stiffness, swelling and pain. As the condition worsens, some people may also experience a decrease in range of motion. Rheumatoid arthritis primarily causes worse symptoms in the mornings, increased stiffness in the morning for greater than 45 minutes.

If you suspect you may have arthritis, check with your physician, who can perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of range of motion. In some cases, X-rays might also be performed, so the physician can check on the physical condition of the bones or cartilage. Other diagnostic testing such as blood tests might also be ordered, which could reveal antibodies that might distinguish osteoarthritis from rheumatoid arthritis.

While exercise is one of the treatments for arthritis, your doctor may also recommend occupational or physical therapy, rest, or medications to alleviate some of the swelling or pain. In more serious cases, surgery to correct and repair joint damage may be recommended.

It’s May, which is National Arthritis Awareness Month, and warmer weather is here. It’s the perfect time to get back into the routine of physical activity. Anytime you are starting a new exercise routine, start slowly, with low-intensity exercises. Find a few different exercise alternatives so you don’t become bored or when getting out of the house might be difficult. A good routine would combine strengthening exercises, stretching and aerobic exercises.

To learn more about arhritis and rheumatology care at CHI Saint Joseph Health, visit www.chisaintjosephhealth.org/lexington-rheumatology-care.


Travis Sizemore, DO, MPH

Travis Sizemore, DO, MPH, is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Rheumatology.

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