There are approximately 915,000 people in Ireland living with arthritis, including one in every 1,000 children. Physical activity plays a vital role in arthritis management.
According to Arthritis Ireland, regular, moderate exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness, strengthen the muscles, ligaments and cartilage around your joints, improve balance and make it easier to get a good night's sleep. Here are 15 tips on staying mobile with arthritis.
1 Get specific advice for you
Exercise can help arthritis sufferers improve health and fitness without damaging joints further. In fact, physical activity actually works to feed the joints by aiding cartilage to absorb nutrients and remove waste. However, it is important to find an activity, which suits your specific needs and ability.
"There are so many different types of arthritis and many different people suffering with these, so it is very important to have a tailored approach to physical activity, which is matched to the ability of the individual," says Dr Tom O'Dwyer, communications officer of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists Rheumatology Clinical Interest Group.
2 Make a plan
"You need to have a plan, there is no point in just launching into something without a plan," Dr O'Dwyer advises. "Your physiotherapist will sit down with you and help you to plan out what is going to happen over the next few weeks. You have to move; there are fears and misconceptions out there about exercise and the possibility of it making the condition worse, but if you move in a safe, supervised way, working with your physiotherapist or occupational therapist or doctor, that movement is will make a huge difference.
"Physical activity can relieve the symptoms of pain, it can relieve fatigue, it will improve joint stability and posture, as well as decreasing your chances of getting other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer."
3 Manage your pain
"It is best to exercise when you have the least pain, stiffness and fatigue, and when your medication is having maximum effect," says Grainne O'Leary, head of service development with Arthritis Ireland. "So plan your exercise periods and active times to coincide with times when your normal, daily regimen of arthritis medications are most effective at reducing pain."
4 Make exercise a priority
According to Arthritis Ireland, self-management, not just in terms of taking medication, but in playing an active role in the managing of your condition (particularly when it comes to staying mobile) can make a big difference to your quality of life when you have arthritis.
"You have to be willing to make exercise a priority," Dr O'Dywer agrees. "You have to adopt the mindset that exercise is important and that you are going to set aside a certain amount of time to do it. You should work as a partnership with your physiotherapist to develop a plan that is effective for you. Then once it is part of your routine, independent management is very much encouraged."
5 Find an activity you enjoy
According to research conducted by Arthritis Ireland, three in 10 people with arthritis say they are sad and depressed, and four in 10 admit that their arthritis is a constant worry for them. Exercising will not just feed your joints, but can also work to lift your mood and finding a physical activity you enjoy will increase your chances of sticking with it.
"There is an activity out there for you. You just need to find what exactly you are interested in and enjoy because that will be key to maintaining the activity beyond a couple of weeks and making it a lifelong practice, which is what most patients will need to do," Dr O'Dwyer advises.
"Exercise doesn't have to be in the gym; physical activity includes active transport, so walking to the shop, taking the stairs in work, mopping, gardening and other hobbies, which may not necessarily be thought of as exercise will also help."
6 Listen to your body
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, however, pain is one of most the common symptoms of the condition. In some cases one's arthritis can flare or subsides, but for many people, the pain will never completely disappear. It is important to listen to your body and not overdo things.
"If you experience pain for two hours after you exercise, you may want to work with a physiotherapist, who can help you distinguish the difference between muscle pain and joint pain," advises Grainne O'Leary of Arthritis Ireland.
"Muscle pain within limits is normal, just like when you do something you have not done for a while. Joint pain is not normal and is not something you should be experiencing. If you do experience joint pain or unusual pain after an activity, it is important that you stop and seek advice from a physiotherapist."
7 Extend your range
Range-of-movement (ROM) help to maintain flexibility, relieve stiffness and are also important for good posture and strength. ROM exercises involve moving your joints through their normal range of movement and then easing them a little further; for example raising your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders forward and backward. These exercises are done slowly so they can be carried out even when in pain and during a flare-up.
8 Work on your strength
"Strengthening exercises are important for everyone, but especially for people with arthritis, because they help strengthen the muscles which move, protect and support your joints," says Grainne O'Leary of Arthritis Ireland. "Many people become less active when they develop arthritis because of the pain and fear of causing damage. This can lead to muscle wastage and weaker joints. By developing strong muscles, joints become more stable and activities such as walking and climbing stairs are easier. The type of exercises you do will depend on which joints are affected and how severe your condition is, so always check with a doctor or physiotherapist before starting a regime."
9 Gently does it
Stretching to warm up your body and your joints can help prevent pain and injury during exercise. Likewise, stretching at the end of an exercise session will work to prevent pain and stiffness the next day. "To start activity safely for the first time, go slow," Grainne O'Leary recommends. "Do less than you think you will be able to manage. If you cope well, do a little bit more next time and keep building up gradually.
"Activities should be easy on the joints like walking, bicycling, water aerobics or dancing," Grainne adds. "These activities have a low risk of injury and do not twist or stress the joints too much."
10 Make a splash
Hydrotherapy allows people with arthritis to exercise joints and muscles while being supported by warm water. The warm temperature aids muscle relaxation, while the buoyancy of the water also easing the impact of any movements on the joints. A number of scientific studies have shown that hydrotherapy can significantly improve strength and general fitness in people with various types of arthritis and is believed to be one of the safest treatments for those with the condition. Other complimentary therapies include massage, which can increase the flow of blood and the lymphatic system throughout the body and reflexology, which stimulates reflex points in the feet, to relieve stress and tension.
* Dr Tom O'Dwyer is a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, iscp.ie. Call the Arthritis Ireland Helpline on 1890 252 846 or check outarthritisireland.ie
See page 13 for the best workouts for arthritis
Health & Living