Monday, September 24, 2007

Arthritis: Taking Care of Your Joints

This week we pick up on a topic that nearly 46 million Americans know about, arthritis. Arthritis is the overarching term for over 100 conditions affecting the joints and the areas around the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects nearly 21 million. It is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage around the joints deteriorates, causing the bone to rub against bone. (We’ll talk about some of the others in future blogs.) There was a time when this condition was considered a consequence of aging. No more. The Arthritis Foundation reports that researchers have recognized and are studying the impact of genetic defects, musculoskeletal conditions, overuse and injury. People of all ages and abilities suffer the pain of arthritis. If you have it, you know how limiting its effects can be. Only heart disease ranks above arthritis as a cause for work interruptions and disabilities. More women than men are affected. Over half of those affected with arthritis do not believe anything can be done to help them. We will discuss treatments in subsequent blogs as well.

First and foremost, though, let’s talk about how to protect your joints. It may seem obvious how to take care of ourselves, but it’s not always easy to do the simple stuff the way our busy lives take us. And with health care costs soaring, it is clear we all do not do what’s good for us! For example, maintaining a sensible body weight. The pressure and strain of too much weight on our joints can do a body in too soon. Exercising helps with the weight and it is a must to keep joints healthy. Strengthening the muscles around the joints ensures protection around those joints and prevents the cartilage from thinning and weakening. Listen to your body. If something hurts while you’re doing it, stop! Ease into activities you have not done before. Be especially wary of the “weekend warrior” phenomenon. You know who you are. You strap on the in-line skates to glide around the park on a fine Indian summer weekend. Only trouble is, you have not skated all summer. Ouch! Be careful. When you do take up something that requires moving at speeds through the power of your own body, wear a helmet or knee and elbow pads. When you fall (and you most likely will at some point), the potential damage to those joint areas will be minimized if you have protected them. So far, all sensible stuff, right? And you know all this, right? Me, too. And yet, we pummel our joints all the time.

In my reading on this topic I found a suggestion I had not heard before. “Use the big joints.” When lifting, pulling or pushing, focus on using the biggest and strongest joints and muscles, knees, hips, shoulders, rather than hands, wrists, feet and ankles. Maybe we do this intuitively, but when I read it, I stopped to think more about how I had recently moved some displays in the store, or carried the grandkids. That may explain why my wrists and thumbs are a bit sore this week. I used the wrong parts.

The other thing is to change position frequently. You know this, especially after you’ve stayed at your desk too long, or in that economy seat on your last trip, the window seat no less. Staying in one position too long stiffens most of us. It makes us more vulnerable to repetitive motion problems, too, which affect joints and the tendons around them. I’m reminded of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. It’s one of our jobs to stay limber and resilient, I think. Consciously engaging in activities that provide a range of motion will, the experts say, keep those joints strong and healthy. For example, Pam is now working with a specialist in neuron-kinetics to learn new ways of moving as she looks for alternative treatments for her osteoporosis. She will write more about these treatments in a future blog and we will also hear from her practitioner as well. What are some of the things you do to stay flexible? Post your comments here.

It’s always a good idea to talk to others and to ask for help, too. In fact, if you have some thoughts on the topic of arthritis, take a minute now and post them here. Let us know how you handle your arthritis. Next time we will share your ideas along with the latest suggestions we have uncovered in our research.

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