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Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

How to Move Toward Healthier Joints

Before starting any exercise program, patients should talk to a doctor, personal trainer or physical therapist to learn which exercises are right for you. Click to view larger
Before starting any exercise program, patients should talk to a doctor, personal trainer or physical therapist to learn which exercises are right for you. (iStock photo via Cottage Health)

Finding time in our busy lives to incorporate a regular routine of exercise can be extremely difficult. In this day and age of constantly being “plugged in” and “on the go,” finding even 20 to 30 minutes a day to spend on our health can be a challenge.

Dr. Amy Wickman, an orthopedic spine surgeon, shares some tips on exercise.

“Changing daily habits can be an easy way to incorporate exercise into your life,” she said. “Instead of an elevator, take the stairs. Instead of sitting for the full lunch break, take a walk. Instead of sitting in front of the television, add a stationary bike in front of that television.

“Joining an exercise program at a gym or the YMCA is a commitment that is sometimes harder to ignore.”

Small amounts of exercise throughout the day can make a big difference. Sometimes it is easier to walk 10 minutes two or three times a day than for 30 minutes straight.

Being creative can make it fun to exercise and unexpected activities can be good exercise outlets. Don’t forget about things like dancing, tai-chi, hiking and biking as good forms of exercises, beside the more typical walking and swimming.

Made to Move

Joints are made to move. If a person rests a sore knee or hip or elbow day after day, the muscles that support the joint will slowly weaken. At the same time, the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone will become less elastic. To a person with arthritis, it all adds up to more pain and stiffness.

Regular exercise can reverse this downward slide. The muscles become stronger, the tendons become more limber, and as a result pain and stiffness may start to fade. Most people begin to notice improvements within two months, although some feel better almost immediately.

For patients with osteoarthritis, there’s another important benefit of exercise. Regular activity provides lifeblood to the cartilage that cushions joints.

Unlike most tissues in the body, cartilage doesn’t receive nutrients from the bloodstream. Instead, it gets its nourishment from fluid (called synovial fluid) in the joints. When a joint moves, the fluid sloshes around, giving the cartilage a healthy dose of oxygen and other vital substances.

As an added bonus, regular exercise encourages the body to produce extra synovial fluid, which helps lubricate the joint.

Strong muscles, flexible tendons and healthy cartilage — these are the things that make everyday life possible.

Tips for the Big 4 Types of Exercise

» Stretches. Slowly stretch to the point of mild discomfort, hold 10 to 30 seconds, and repeat three to five times. Spend at least 10 minutes a day stretching, and make sure you cover every major muscle group. Often for people with osteoarthritis, gentle stretching first thing in the morning helps make movement easier and less painful initially.

» Range of motion. Every joint should go through range of motion every day. If bending the joint in a certain way causes too much pain, stick with movements that are more comfortable. Over time, try to gradually increase your flexibility until the joint regains more range of motion.

» Strength training. Take it slow and easy when lifting weights. You may need to start with just a one- or two-pound weight (or even no weight at all.) Once you can do three sets of eight or 10 repetitions with ease, gradually increase the weight. Be careful to only increase weight typically by week, not days. Increasing weight too quickly can often result in injury.

» Aerobic activity. Enjoy a brisk walk, swim, jog or aerobics class. Swimming and water aerobics are especially good choices if your joints are too sore for walking. No matter which activity you choose, don’t push yourself too hard. At most, your heart rate should reach about 60 percent to 80 percent of its maximum. It is better to be able to perform smaller (20-30 minutes) aerobic exercise multiple times a week than one longer duration only once or twice a week.

Getting Started

Exercise isn’t something to just jump into. Before starting any exercise program, patients should talk to a doctor, personal trainer or physical therapist to learn which exercises are right for them.

Knowing your own limits is very important. The body will sound an “alarm” if exercise becomes too intense. Possible signs of overexertion include chest discomfort, heavy sweating and lingering pain or tiredness.

Some patients will have to adjust their routines day by day to keep up with their body’s needs. Stretches, range-of-motion exercises and weight lifting could further inflame the joint. Wait till the flare-up is over before you resume your routine.

Again, the importance of slow and small increases in range of motion, endurance and weight lifting are ideal to help prevent these flare-ups.

With any exercise program, the first steps are always the hardest. People with arthritis can have an especially difficult time getting started. When your joints creak every time you get up, a good workout is probably the furthest thing from your mind. However, with a consistent routine of aerobic activity, arthritic pain can be reduced and well managed!

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