Arthritis Can Erode Quality of Life: Exercise and Assistive Aids Can Help
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
While many people with arthritis think that surgery is their only hope, current research suggests that various exercise regimens including leg strengthening, flexibility and balance activities, can have substantial benefits in reducing pain, increasing function, and maintaining physical independence. Moving the injured joint through a safe range of motion slowly and effectively can decrease stiffness and increase range of motion. In many cases, it can provide short-term relief from that stabbing toothache-like pain. In addition to safe movement activities, cold and warm compresses may also provide short periods of relief. Combined with the right plan for daily movement (Remember the five m's to good health: moving more means more mobility) and perhaps the use of a scooter or cane at various points in the day when the joint(s) is (are) starting to become painful, a person can add several more years of independence and quality of life.
Arthritis is the leading cause of activity limitation, affecting one out of every three adults. Of the nearly 70 million adults in the U.S. who have arthritis, more than 7 million have significant functional limitations because of it. As the population ages, the personal and economic hardships are expected to increase dramatically and will soon become one of the most significant health problems in this century, alongside cancer and heart disease. Millions of baby boomers will begin to experience symptoms in their early 50s, progressively worsening as they grow older.
In addition to causing disability in later life, arthritis is beginning to appear in many younger individuals with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, polio, and spina bifida. This is often associated with joint malalignment and "wear and tear" from variations in gait (ambulation) patterns that erode the cartilage between the bones. Some experts believe that it may be better for a person who has an altered gait pattern to combine walking with the use of a wheelchair or scooter. Theoretically, this may preserve the integrity of the joint for a longer period of time and give the person more years of pain-free living in later adulthood. More research needs to be done to determine how effective this would be for people with physical disabilities, as well as for individuals who are severely overweight and who also place tremendous stress loads on the hip and knee joints. It might be wiser to use a wheelchair or scooter at various times during the day and save the joint for safe and effective exercise routines using non-weight-bearing activities such as water exercise or riding a stationary bike. It makes sense to combine moving with 'scooting', rather than taking more pain medication or living in social isolation, afraid to leave the home because of the fear of falling. In the long run, it will preserve quality of life and allow people to continue to interact with their friends, family, and environment.