I had a client, a woman in her late 40s. She never shared much of her health history with me. For the first month, I had to constantly text her to go for walks. She would go for 2 or 3 days, then take a break for a week. Her complaint: It’s too tough.
When questioned repeatedly, she told me why. She had rheumatoid arthritis. Nothing seemed to help and everything seemed tough – a short slow walk or sitting on the floor.
What is arthritis? It is medically described as an inflammation of one or more joints. So, typically, a person suffering from a form – there are more than a 100 of them – of arthritis experiences pain, aches, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion in and around one or more joints. These symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly.
So what puts you at risk of arthritis?
Family history. Some types of arthritis run in families. Your genes can make you more susceptible to environmental factors that may trigger arthritis if your parents or siblings have the disorder.
Age. The risk of many types of arthritis increases with age.
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Your sex. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Men are more likely to develop gout, another type of arthritis.
Previous joint injury. If you have injured a joint while playing a sport or over training, you are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint.
Obesity. Obese people have a higher risk of developing arthritis. The excess weight will put stress on joints, particularly your knees, hips and spine.
What can you do if you suffer from arthritis?
My client told me that most days she dreaded the thought of getting up and moving her aching body. But let’s think that through. By staying put, you are allowing your muscles and ligaments to tighten up, so your joints won’t be able to bend as far as they used to. This in turn makes you burn fewer calories, and the weight you put on puts more strain on your joints.
Exercise for the elderly has proven to be one of the most helpful treatments for arthritis. Work with your doctor to find the right exercise for you, and consult him or her about when you should skip it due to symptoms. Yoga, walking, water workout, low-impact aerobics and strength training can all help prevent stiff joints, build muscle, improve endurance, and benefit your heart, bones, and mood.
Simple stretches are recommended every day as they help lubricate joints, enhancing and maintaining range of motion. This range of motion is the normal amount your joints can be moved in any direction. Stretching will gradually expand that range, giving you greater flexibility and less pain.
But when starting, remember that you should never stretch a cold muscle. Always perform “static stretching” (stretch and hold) after a five to 10-minute warm-up. A warmed-up muscle can stretch longer and endure more. Move as far as you can until you feel a stretch in the muscles around your joints, hold for about 5–10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5–10 times if you can. Try and not to “bounce” the joint when doing these stretching exercises.
Try these simple stretches to work your major joints, including the neck, back, hips, knees, and more.
- Rolling your head from side to side can help loosen the neck muscles and relieve stress. Holding your head to one side for five seconds helps loosen the long muscles on the sides of your neck that tend to tighten with all that reading and staring at a computer screen.
- Shrugging your shoulders can help keep them loose, try doing it a couple of times to see how it feels. Afterwards, try reaching for the skies and stretch your arms as high up as you can comfortably go.
- Gently rolling your hands around in circles keeps wrists limber. For your fingers, make a fist for two seconds and then stretch your fingers far and wide for four seconds. Repeat as often as you need.
- The back can be a troublesome area, so make sure you are gentle with it. Moving your upper half in slow, fluid movements stretches the back. Try side bends and hula-like movements for warming up. Trying to touch your toes also helps.
- The hips are another common problem area for people with arthritis. To get started, sit in a chair with your back straight. Holding onto the seat, lift each leg like you’re walking. The higher you can raise your leg, the deeper the stretch will be.
- Aching knees can make standing difficult. You can warm up your knees by extending one leg out at a time. Another simple exercise while sitting involves bending your knee at 90 degrees and pulling it closer to you with your arms.
- Pain-free ankles and feet are vital to stay mobile. Rotating your feet in circles can help lessen aches. Next time you sit down, try rocking your feet back and forth—lifting up the toes and then rolling them forward so your heels pick up.
Doing these exercises several times a day can help get movement back into your major joints. When you’re ready, graduate to evening walks or laps in the pool. Just be careful not to overwhelm yourself. It is important to listen to your body. No matter what type of arthritis you have, take it easy when your joints are inflamed. Studies suggest that resting for 2-3 days during a flare-up helps.
Remember: It’s better to go slow than do too much, too soon.