It’s official. Doctors now advise movement and strengthening exercises as treatment for the aching and sore joints of osteoarthritis rather than suggesting a reduction in activity and encouraging patients to keep off their feet to heal.
Aching and sore joints used to be treated by rest and reducing movement. (You know the joke: Patient: Doctor it hurts when I do X. Doctor: Then don’t do X.) Through more and more research, physicians have begun to understand that a careful approach of movement, stretching and strengthening delivers better results over the long term. From the Wall Street Journal:
The new treatment approach comes as osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease once considered a problem of old age, has begun showing up in more middle-aged and young adults as a result of obesity and sports injuries. Studies have shown that weight loss, combined with exercises aimed at improving joint function and building up muscles that support the joints, can significantly improve patients’ health and quality of life compared with medication alone.
While NSAIDs and over the counter medications treat general inflammation and do help with the pain of osteoarthritis, they are not necessarily a long-term solution due to their side-effects. The current suggestion by doctors includes education and exercise regimens to help patients strengthen and stabilize the tissues and support structures around a joint. More from WSJ:
Self-management programs typically involve classes that instruct people on the best exercises for strengthening muscles that support the joints and for enhancing flexibility to keep joints from regularly seizing up. As important, patients are taught which exercises not to do to avoid exacerbating the problem. Even mild exercise can be painful for osteoarthritis patients. But with time, doctors say, the benefits accumulate as reduced pain and greater mobility.
Another fact I learned from the article is that osteoarthritis arising from injuries can happen as few as 10 years after an injury. That means people injuring themselves in their teens or early 20s might have early onset osteoarthritis by 25 or 30. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles coupled weight issues and obesity means joints have to work harder and support more weight when in motion, another factor contributing to the increase in osteoarthritis.
Coupled with an alarming Men’s Health article: The Scariest Thing You’ll Do All Day, this information puts movement and exercise at the top of the list of things to add to your day. For myself, I’m glad I have a job that requires movement and standing throughout the day after reading those two pieces.
I highly recommend reading the Wall Street Journal link if you have osteoarthritis (or think you do) or if you have family members with arthritis issues. Pass it along. And while you’re at it, get up and move around for a quick break.
Photo credit: flickr.com creative commons, user jayhem