Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Exercise for Arthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 21million Americans and is caused when cartilage is damaged by injury, overuse, obesity, or muscle weakness. This condition can be quite debilitating, causing many to reduce all types of activity, particularly exercise. However, you can take steps to nourish your joints and help them last longer.

You probably think that I'll recommend glucosamine. My experience is that it reduces symptoms about 50% of the time. It helped speed my recovery from whiplash after an auto accident, but isn’t for everyone. If you decide to try it, you want to get good quality supplements that don’t include fillers. This website gives good information about glucosamine:

What I do recommend is smooth movement. Let me explain why. Arthritis occurs when cartilage, the protective covering on the ends of bones, is damaged. Its major function is to absorb and release synovial fluid, which cushions the impact so bones don’t bear the brunt of movement. Cartilage doesn’t receive direct blood flow, so it depends on movement to circulate fluids. As a matter of fact, cartilage will atrophy and degenerate unless it’s used regularly.

There are many joints in the body to nourish, over 100 in the spine and more than 20 in each hand. This website from the Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group, includes fabulous pictures that illustrates arthritis in the hand:,

Typical exercise doesn’t address the needs of joints and many times makes things worse. Excessive loading of the joints (for example, pounding on a treadmill) damages cartilage and that can lead to osteoarthritis. Also, most exercise focuses on arms and legs and doesn’t address the spine or hands.

The Arthritis Foundation has created several programs designed specifically to increase mobility without undue strain. The Aquatics Program includes gentle exercises in warm water that are designed to increase flexibility and strength. Tai Chi from the Arthritis Foundationâ includes 12 movements, six basic and six advanced, which improve agility and relaxation. For more information, visit The aquatics program is available at the Julius Boehm pool is Issaquah,

Another option is therapeutic yoga, which gently brings movement to the body in a low-pressure, high-awareness environment. You can search for a therapeutic yoga instructor near you at The International Association of Yoga Therapists, In Issaquah, the Yoga Barn,, has several classes.

Undulation can be used as a specific exercise, especially for those whose activity is limited by pain, or incorporated into every day activities, which is good for everyone. Undulations are small and mild and focus on one simple movement at a time. Believe it or not, you can lubricate your spine simply by swaying back in forth as you sit—as long as you move within your pain-free range. Octopus is an undulation that soothes the joints in the hands. You can learn more about Undulations at

If you have specific questions about arthritis, The Arthritis Foundation has many resources, including a Local Helpful (available in the Pacific Northwest) at 800-542-0295, discussion boards available online at, or the Active Adult Network, which plans outings for people with arthritis to connect and stay mobile.

A bit of proactive exercise now will make it easier for you to move in the future. Just remember, gentle is better than harsh.

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