Arthritis takes many forms

The pain and inhibitive joint movement of arthritis can greatly restrict daily life. Learning a few facts about it may help you deal with the disease.

Arthritis can be of several different varieties and affect a wide age span, not just older adults.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects all ages and is symptomatic. The synovial membranes in the joints become inflamed. Lymphocytes from the blood stream and antibody-producing plasma cells infiltrate the membranes. These cells then produce a rheumatoid factor that further increases the inflammation of the joint. As the cells die, enzymes are released into the joint tissues and ligaments, and bone and cartilage are eroded.

Rheumatoid arthritis can develop suddenly or slowly; it may involve one or more joints; or it may develop symmetrically in hands, feet, wrist and elbows with the hip and knee joints involved much later. Tender joints, resting pain and stiffness, fatigue and depression are effects of this debilitating disease.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease especially affecting weight-bearing joints. It creates destruction and fissuring of articular cartilage, but often without the great inflammation found in rheumatoid arthritis. Pain can be minimal, but is increased with hard joint usage. This type of arthritis is slow to develop and most often found in people over 40.

There are several other types of arthritis: gouty, pertaining to the interaction of uric acid crystals deposited in the joints; septic, resulting from bacteria or their byproducts in the bloodstream involving the joints; and bursae, involving the sacs filled with synovial fluid that cushion the joints.

Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are the most common forms of arthritis seen when dealing with exercise and fitness.

Decrease in movement and muscle atrophy are brought on by disuse of affected joints. So even though a fitness student is suffering from mild aches, pain and stiffness from the disease, exercise movement is still regarded as a most important ingredient in its treatment.

When either rheumatoid or osteoarthritis have been diagnosed in a student, the fitness prescription is essentially the same. Exercise warm-up movements should be very slow at the beginning with repetitions minimal and range of motion short. Then the range is increased throughout the total program time until a full range is accomplished.

Also, if exercising is done in a chair, you can cut down on weight-bearing movements. Do slow movements and take a warm shower before you exercise. Loosen and release the tightness in sore, stiff joints, and your exercise movements will be much easier to accomplish.

When you work with these two major types of arthritis, you find that "longer" is not necessarily "better." This means the number of repetitions of an exercise movement should be increased gradually. Eventually, do the same set of movements with an increase in the length of hold or the height of the lift. I use a circular motion, beginning with slow small movements with a low lift, and build until the joint feels warm and relaxed.

A proper fitness program for the arthritic will leave the student feeling supple, free from pain and stiffness, relaxed, warm and with a much better outlook on life. If you find an increase in joint pain within two hours following your fitness session, you may have overworked.

Some days are good ones for the arthritic, and some not so good. The important point is to realize the good ones and use them to improve your quality of life. It is always best to check with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise program, whether in a chair, swimming or floor work, to find out if your type of arthritis will benefit.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and Healthsmart.


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