Skater promotes arthritis exercises

Former Olympic speed skater Nathalie Lambert and the Arthritis Society have a message for all arthritis sufferers: get moving.

Lambert, who has osteoarthritis, is promoting regular, gentle exercise for big gains in mobility, flexibility and pain control. She appears in a new video demonstrating special arthritis exercises.
The video was developed by the Arthritis Society, with a grant from Pharmacia and Pfizer Canada.

“Exercise does make a difference. If you do a little bit, it helps with the range of motion, it helps with the flexibility, it helps with the joints not being so stiff anymore. And if you have some tone in your muscle, instead of just the joint absorbing the shock when you do some movement, the muscle will take some of it. And exercise will help relieve a bit of the pain you get in doing the movement,” says Lambert, 37.

Knee problems
She says she started having knee problems when she was just 18 and over her entire speed skating career in the ’90’s, she experienced pain and knee inflammation. In April 2000, she had major knee reconstruction.

“But I still have the osteoarthritis. My knees will always be way older an me,” says Lambert. She is a three-time world champion in short track speed skating. She has one gold and two silver Olympic medals. Currently, she’s the sales and marketing director at the Montreal Athletic Association. She says her own condition made her a willing spokesperson for the exercise video.

Special exercises
It’s divided up into different segments covering exercises for the neck, shoulder, elbows, back, hands, knees and feet. The emphasis is on exercise for:

  • Range of motion
  • Strength-building
  • Stretching
  • Aerobic benefits

Lambert appears in the video with Alex McKechnie, a physiotherapist and athletic trainer. The exercises were developed by the Mary Pack Arthritis Centre in Vancouver. Dr. Simon Carrette, a Toronto rheumatologist is also in the video. He and several other rheumatologists were consulted about the exercises.

New approach
Lambert says the idea of exercise for arthritis is fairly new. She says the old thinking was you could do more damage to a joint if you exercised.

“And people with arthritis have so much pain, the last thing they want to do is move those joints. So they’re caught in a Catch 22 situation. The less they do, the more it’s going to hurt and the stiffer their joints will be-so they have less and less range of motion. And actually, they have more chance of getting injured by just a small movement. If they actually do the exercise, it will hurt, initially. But they’ll get more flexibility in their joints, they’ll get more blood circulation and more muscle toning. All this will help stabilize the joint and it does make a difference with the symptoms,” says Lambert.

Chronic disease
In Canada, it’s estimated about 4 million people suffer from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, gout and rheumatoid arthritis, the most common of the 100 different forms of arthritis. The chronic disease is characterized by pain and inflammation of the joints. There is no cure, but anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers such as acetaminophen are commonly prescribed. Exercise is another recommended treatment. Lambert says exercise can also slow the progress of the disease.

“And it’s never too late. If you’re 70 years old and you do have arthritis, starting in an exercise program will help you regain some of the motion you’ve lost. It’ll help you do simple tasks such as getting in and out of cars, or grabbing something in a cupboard, or opening doors or shaking hands-which is really painful for some people with rheumatoid arthritis. It will help because you’ll have more strength in the muscles around the joint and also more flexibility,” she says.

Water workout
She also recommends working out in water. Even for non-swimmers, it’s possible to walk in the water, or get a flotation belt and float while doing movements. She says it’s the safest place to start an exercise regime.

“Working in the water is the best place for people with arthritis because it alleviates weight and pressure on the joints and the water adds resistance. So you can do muscle toning in the water. You won’t do any more damage to your joints,” she says.

Lambert also recommends consulting with a doctor, a physiotherapist or a fitness trainer who understands arthritis exercise. The arthritis exercise video costs $8, with all proceeds going to The Arthritis Society. Information is available online, or by calling 1-800-321-1433.