Staying Active with Arthritis
As the number one cause of long-term disability, arthritis impacts an estimated 27 million Americans. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, causing inflammation and deterioration of a joint. Weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, or spine, are most commonly affected. The result can be joint stiffness, swelling, pain, and functional limitations. Although OA is more prevalent with advanced age, it is not an inevitable part of aging. Lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of OA. Staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and following an anti-inflammatory diet can help combat arthritis.
If you already have mild to moderate joint pain and stiffness, regular physical activity is still recommended. Engaging in low impact activities like swimming, biking, elliptical, and walking can help reduce joint stiffness, improve muscle strength, and benefit cardiovascular health. Low impact exercise will not make your arthritis worse. Work up to 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise, most days of the week. If your joint pain is severe, interferes with your quality of life, and has not responded well to conservative treatment, you may want to discuss surgical options with your doctor. Success rates are very high for both hip and knee replacements, but as with any surgery, the decision should not be taken lightly.
There is a strong link between joint pain and weight. Being overweight increases your risk of knee OA by 4-5 times. Losing 10 pounds reduces the pressure on the knee joint by 40 pounds with each step. That’s incredible motivation to help reduce the load on your knees! If you need guidance for healthy weight-loss, start by talking to your doctor or a registered dietician. There is a lot of misinformation and “magic pill” solutions out there, so make sure you use the guidance of a medical professional to help you on your weight-loss journey.
Whether or not you are already at a healthy weight, choosing a diet rich in whole foods and limiting processed foods can help reduce inflammation. A nutrient-rich diet prioritizes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and fatty fish. Reduce food choices that are high in added sugars, limit intake of processed and red meat, and choose fried food sparingly.
You can learn more about prioritizing anti-inflammatory food choices through the Arthritis Foundation resources. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/anti-inflammatory/the-ultimate-arthritis-diet
If you are making good strides in progressing your activity level, but looking for strategies to help with symptom management, consider the use of hot and cold therapies. Heat can reduce joint stiffness and can be applied prior to activity to warm-up the joint. Try a microwavable heating pack or electric heating pad for 10-20 minutes prior to activity. Cold is a helpful modality to reduce swelling and/or pain, and is the preferred choice post-activity. Never place hot or cold packs directly on the skin and be mindful of the temperature to protect skin integrity. Judicious use of over the counter anti-inflammatories can also help with symptom management. It’s always best to discuss recommendations and dosing with your doctor.
In summary, if you have arthritis, keep moving! Low-impact activities help lubricate your joints, keep your muscles strong, and benefit your overall health. If you are not at a healthy weight, lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, can help reduce the load on your joints. Fill your diet with foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties. You can make a difference in your joint health.
Esser S, Bailey A. Effects of exercise and physical activity on knee osteoarthritis. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2011;15(6):423–430. Article Summary on PubMed.
Murphy L, Schwartz TA, Helmick CG, et al. Lifetime risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;59:1207–1213. Free Article.
Thomas S, Browne H, Mobasheri A, Rayman MP. What is the evidence for a role for diet and nutrition in osteoarthritis? Rheumatology (Oxford). 2018 May 1;57(suppl_4):iv61-iv74. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/key011. PMID: 29684218; PMCID: PMC5905611. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5905611/