Arthritis: tips & facts

Tips for Active Living with Arthritis
While most Canadians are busy celebrating the season in the garden, on the golf course, or taking a leisurely stroll, there are thousands who remain indoors, prisoners of arthritis pain. More than 50 per cent of older Canadians with arthritis surveyed in a recent poll said that arthritis limits some favorite springtime hobbies and social activities.

Ten years ago, exercise and springtime activities were seen as contributing to the onset of arthritis, and regular exercise for arthritis sufferers was unthinkable. But today, hobbies and exercise are seen as part of the solution, if done correctly and with proper medical guidance. Those in the recent survey who reported exercising regularly, were more likely to participate in other activities as well. Here are some tips:

  • Choose activities with minimal impact on affected joints. If arthritis affects the upper extremities, try walking or other activities that put more stress on the lower body. If lower extremities suffer from arthritis, participate in an activity that will work the upper body.
  • Low-impact leisure activities are recommended. Walking is easy to danywhere and provides cardiovascular benefits. Swimming and bicycling are also great options because they have minimal impact on joints.
  • Before starting any activity, work with a healthcare provider to get joint pain and inflammation under control and to determine the range of motion in the affected limb or limbs. You may have to modify the activity or the equipment — by inserting shock-absorbing insoles in your walking shoes, for example. Appropriate assistive devices, such as a cane or a splint/brace, may allow participation in favorite activities.
  • Start slowly. Continue activity for up to 20 minutes, but if you start to feel very tired, or something starts to hurt, don’t push it. Try to increase the time spent by 10 per cent every week. Back off if joints swell or become painful.
  • If a joint is particularly painful, reduce your activities, or apply ice before and after. A warm shower before taking part in any physical activity helps limber up stiff muscles and joints.
  • Arthritis takes shape in different forms and varying degrees of severity. Consult with your physician to determine the best arthritis treatment regimen for you.
  • It’s not a good idea to take pain medication before physical activity, since it could mask pain that will warn you you’re pushing yourself too hard. It’s better to plan activity for periods when your normal arthritis treatment regime is at its most effective in reducing pain.
  • Muscle or joint pain that lasts more than two hours after the activity means you probably pushed yourself too hard. Slow down.

Facts on Arthritis:
A crippling disease on the rise

  • Arthritis is a broad term that encompasses more than 100 different conditions, ranging from osteoarthritis, common in older people and stemming from wear and tear on joints, to rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. A person with arthritis is likely to have pain, swelling and/or stiffness in the joints.
  • Arthritis is the most common cause of long-term disability in Canada, according to The Arthritis Society. Over four million Canadians are affected to some degree by arthritis, with 13 per cent — or over 600,000 — disabled by the disease.
  • Women are affected more often than men. The prevalence in women is 21.1 per cent of the adult population, compared to 15.7 per cent in men.
  • As boomers age, the incidence of arthritis is expected to explode. Between 1991 and 2031, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over will jump from 3.2 million to 8.3 million, accounting for 22 per cent of the total population. Likewise, the number of arthritis sufferers in this age group will jump from 1.2 million in 1991 to a projected 3.2 million in 2031.
  • Arthritis and related disorders cost the Canadian economy more than 55 billion dollars a year.
  • Arthritis disability can seriously affect quality of life. Fifty-seven per cent of sufferers recently polled said arthritis limits their ability to walk; 54 per cent are limited in their spring cleaning; and 52 per cent were limited in their ability to garden.
  • Warning signs of arthritis include pain or swelling in one or more joints that lasts more than a few weeks and red, warm, and swollen joints that are sensitive to the touch.
  • The latest topical treatment for arthritis is Menthacin, which contains a dual-acting, natural formula of capsaicin and menthol. Capsaicin is a chili pepper extract that relieves pain over the long-term by depleting the amount of Substance P surrounding the inflamed joint. This substance is responsible for sending the pain message from the joint to the brain. The menthol provides a cool, soothing feeling for immediate relief.
  • Due to advances in research, physicians are now able to diagnose arthritis early and treat the symptoms, helping to prevent permanent, disabling damage. Canadian researchers are also studying triggers that contribute to chronic inflammation and hope to find a cure within 10 years.
  • As arthritis takes shape in different forms and varying degrees of severity, each case and treatment approach requires individual attention.

Green thumbs with sore joints:
How to enjoy gardening with arthritis

Gardening has grown into one of Canada’s most popular pastimes. And arthritis sufferers don’t have to miss the joy of turning a plain plot of soil into a fragrant flower bed or succulent vegetable patch. With a few simple warm-ups, common sense tips, and precautions, arthritis sufferers can still dig right in:

  • Be sure to work with your healthcare provider to determine how much you can do and what assistive devices might be right for you.
  • Take a 10-minute break every hour. Keep track of time with a kitchen timer — don’t get carried away and overdo it.
  • Select tools that reduce stress on joints and make sure they’re sharp and well-oiled. Keep an eye out for long-handled tools or a two-wheeled cart.
  • If needed, make your garden safe for walkers and wheelchairs by ensuring that paths are wide and paving slabs have a rough service.
  • Plan rest areas, such as benches, in the garden, so you can enjoy your garden even during breaks. Think of fences and trellises as potential hand holds and seats, so be sure they’re sturdy.
  • Keep tool storage near intensive work areas, and be sure that frequently-used items are stored within easy reach. Instead of using low cabinets for storage that require stooping and bending, take advantage of easily-accessible hooks, shelves, and counters.
  • Keep beds no wider than 60 cm (2 feet) or easy access, if from one side only. Replace flower beds with shrubs, herbaceous, or perennial plants which are easier to care for.
  • Warm up muscles and joints before heading out into the garden. You can apply heat, with a hot water bottle or a warm bath, or do some light warm up exercises.
  • The exercises should be repeated five to ten times and they should not cause any pain or increase symptoms. These include gently tucking and then flexing your hand. For your shoulders, gently raise and lower them, and roll them backwards. Warm up your neck muscles by rotating your head, bending if from side to side, forward, and backward.
  • After spending some time in the garden, take a stretch break to keep stiff or tight muscles from getting injured. Cool down exercises after gardening include stretching the wrists downward.
  • Avoid performing too many repetitions of the same movement, such as bending repeatedly. Also avoid holding one position for too long and trying to lift or carry too heavy a load.