Although arthritis is a common disorder, it’s one that’s not well understood. In reality, arthritis is not a single disease; it’s an informal way of referencing pain of the joints. Currently, there are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis and related conditions.
People of all races, genders, and ages can develop arthritis, and it’s the leading cause of disability of Americans. It’s estimated that over 50 million adults and 300,000 children suffer from some form of arthritis. The most common arthritic symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may wax and wane. They range from mild, to moderate, to disabling.
Severe cases of arthritis result in chronic pain and the inability to perform the tasks of daily living, and they may even make it difficult to walk or use the stairs.
Arthritis may also cause permanent joint changes, which are visible radiographically. In addition to joint destruction, other forms of arthritis can also affect the eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs, and skin.
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Three Forms of Arthritis
There are different forms of arthritis, but the three most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It’s the natural wear and tear that occurs when your joints are overused. Arthritis usually develops as we get older, but it can also come from being overweight, which puts extra stress on our joints.
Weight-bearing joints, such as your spine, knees, hips, and feet are the most common places osteoarthritis affects. It may come on gradually over months or even years. The affected joint will start to hurt, but you won’t feel sick or suffer from chronic fatigue, which happens with other types of arthritis.
Your body’s shock absorbers start to break down. Cartilage, the material that covers the ends of your bones, gradually begins to break down, which typically occurs in the knees when someone is overweight. The extra weight puts added pressure on the cartilage as it’s squeezed between the bones. As it’s damaged and wears away, there isn’t as much cartilage left to cushion within the joint.
Damaged cartilage can make moving the affected joint painful. You might hear a grating sound when the cartilage on the surface of the bones rubs together. You may also have painful spurs or bumps on the end of the bones, particularly in the fingers and feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks different parts of the body, especially the joints. If left untreated, it can cause severe joint damage. Individuals suffering from RA can also develop rheumatoid nodules over the joints like the elbows, knuckles, and heels.
Experts don’t know the exact cause of RA. Some believe that the immune system may become confused after being infected with a virus and start to attack itself.
You may develop pain and stiffness in your hands, feet, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. You may also develop swelling in the affected areas. Symptoms also tend to be symmetrical, so if you have painful symptoms in your left knee, you may also develop the same symptoms on the right.
People with psoriatic arthritis have inflammation of the skin and joints. Psoriasis can cause patchy, raised areas of inflamed skin. Typically, this affects one’s knees, elbows, and scalp. Psoriatic arthritis usually starts between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can develop as early as childhood. Both men and women can suffer from psoriatic arthritis.
People suffering from this form of arthritis may have swelling of their fingers and toes, along with discolored or pitted fingernails.
Treatment of Arthritis
If you’re diagnosed with arthritis, probably the last thing on your mind is exercising. However, there are a lot of great things that can be said regarding exercise if you carry an arthritis diagnosis. Exercise can increase the strength of your muscles around the affected joints. Regular exercise will also increase your flexibility, endurance, and promote better overall health by helping you control your weight.
Whether you are just starting out or you already exercise on a regular basis, your exercise program needs to focus on functional training. Focus on exercises that improve fitness for activities of daily living. Flexibility and joint range of motion should be your primary exercise components.
Your exercise program should look like this:
- Low-intensity workouts with a shorter duration in the initial phases
- Select exercises to protect joints
- Avoid contact sports or activities that require standing on one leg for prolonged periods or use stop-and-go movements
- Reduce intensity if you develop pain or swelling
- Avoid over-stretching; your stretches should always be comfortable and pain-free
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Role of a Personal Trainer
As a personal trainer, a lot of planning needs to go into creating an exercise plan that will help an arthritic client achieve their goals.
Below are a few tips to consider:
- Exercise in the appropriate environment and consider training in a group where everyone can work at their own pace and ability.
- Have an alternative exercise in mind in the case of an especially painful day.
- Collaborate with your client’s health professionals to create a management plan.
- Design your arthritic toolbox with non-traditional equipment such as strength bags, medicine balls, and combat ropes. All of these can change the load, intensity, and variation of your program.
Living with arthritis is challenging. The pain and stiffness of arthritis can make it difficult to perform simple tasks most people take for granted.
But the key to living a healthy, active lifestyle is knowing your limits.
If you aren’t sure where to start, ask your doctor about the best types of exercise you can perform safely. Staying active not only keeps your body limber but will also do wonders to boost your mood.
Frequently Asked Questions About Arthritis
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is another way of saying “joint inflammation” and the term refers to over 100 diseases.
Who can get arthritis?
Anyone can have arthritis and it affects one out of every seven people. Usually, those most susceptible to arthritis are the elderly.
What does arthritis feel like?
Depending on the subtype and the individual, what arthritis feels like can vary; however, joint pain and stiffness is usually always felt.
Can cracking my knuckles cause arthritis?
There is no evidence that supports this commonly heard myth.
Is there a cure for arthritis?
No, there is no cure for arthritis but there are treatments that can help cut down on the discomfort of the disease.
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