Arthritis is a disease that causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The joint pain of arthritis can appear as knee pain, hip pain, thumb pain, hand pain, or wrist pain, as well as joint pain in other areas of the body.
Many with arthritis claim to experience more arthritis-related pain on colder, wet days than on warmer, dry days. You probably have a relative in your family who will declare “My shoulder is achy. Rain’s coming soon.” And often that relative is correct. There is no conclusive scientific data that weather exacerbates symptoms of arthritis although there could be a link between low barometric pressure, high humidity and joint swelling. This swelling causes stiffness of the joints, as well as pain. Cold weather stiffens muscles, which can be a contributing factor. It should be noted that only symptoms of pain in joints and stiffness seem to be affected by weather and there is no evidence that it leads to joint damage.
How we react to cold weather
When it is cold outside, people tend to be more guarded. We clench up our fists and arms, we hunker down in our seats, burrow into our coats and generally, tighten up our bodies to shield ourselves from the elements. These defensive postures can cause more joint pain and stiffness.
But more importantly, people tend to exercise less in the colder months. Sometimes a lot less. It’s well-known that exercise eases the pain associated with arthritis. It increases flexibility, eases our joints, makes us stronger and improves our overall health. When it’s cold or wet out, we tend to make exercise less of a priority, often ignoring it altogether. Shorter daylight hours in the winter months also limits outside exercise time.
What can you do?
When venturing outside it’s important to dress warmly, using layers to trap heat close to your body. Be sure to cover your head, hands and feet well because we tend to lose most of our body heat from those areas. Make sure to always wear appropriate footwear for the weather to avoid nasty falls on the ice or wet, soggy feet while walking through the rain or the snow.
When the weather prohibits adequate outdoor activities, turn inward and figure out how to exercise inside. It’s key to maintain an active lifestyle throughout the year. If you are in the midst of a flare up, do what you can because it’s worse to not do anything at all. Check your local area for mall walkers programs, yoga classes, or aqua fitness classes at a nearby heated indoor pool.
Look around your house or apartment and make the best use of your indoor space. Exercise by walking around your house during the commercials in your favorite television show, jog in place with light hand weights, take the stairs when you can and maybe borrow or invest in a stationary exercise bike or a treadmill.
Be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and juice. This will help flush out toxins and help alleviate joint pain. Indulge in hot beverages, such as hot tea, hot chocolate and soup. All are warming and comforting on a raw winter day.
You can use a dehumidifier to maintain moisture level at work or home. Start your day with a hot shower. A hot shower can work some of the stiffness out of the joints and warms up your whole body.
Talk to your health care professional about other treatments like over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, supplements, acupuncture, massage, and splints that can be helpful.
As with our other joints, we take our hip joints for granted until they hurt. Once they do, you start to realize how many activities are affected by pain in one joint.
Whether you have been diagnosed with arthritis in the hip or have a family history that might make you more susceptible to developing hip arthritis, there are some activities you should adapt or avoid to minimize pain and future problems. Here is a short list:
1. Activities that cause “high impact”. Sports played on a hard surface that require jumping or rapid turns and stops contribute a high degree of stress on the hip joints. Examples of activities that cause impact on your hips and other weight bearing joints include the obvious such as running and jumping, Zumba and high impact aerobics.
Less obvious high impact activities include cross country biking (on a bicycle or motorbike), waterskiing, tennis, hockey and baseball. Racquetball, volleyball and basketball are some other examples. Even less common sports such as handball, karate and other martial arts can take their toll.
When possible, try switching to “low impact” or “no impact” sports in order to minimize the wear and tear on the hip joint. Low impact sports include bowling, bicycling and golfing. Water sports such as swimming, water aerobics, kayaking, scuba diving, sailing and even water polo, are considered “no impact” or very “low impact” sports and yet can provide a very good workout or even a competitive experience.
At the very least, make certain to do a good warm up prior to participating in any sport. Gauge the stress on your hips and other joints by how much pain you experience when playing and your pain level after the “game”. If pain persists for more than a few hours after the activity, consider reducing the frequency or intensity with which you play or look for other lower impact activities.
2. Over-stretching: Any stretching is best performed after you have warmed up your muscles with 5-10 minutes of low intensity physical activity such as walking. The activity will help increase blood flow to the muscles and warms them to prepare the muscles and tendons for stretching.
Specific hip stretches such as butterflies - sitting upright with knees and hips bent and feet together - and cross over leg stretches should be done only to the point where you feel the stretch but not much beyond that. Think more Tai Chi and Yoga than the splits or a spread eagle stretch with your head touching the floor. It’s great if you have that kind of flexibility but don’t aim for it as a warm up stretch.
If you have been diagnosed with hip arthritis or lower back problems, always check with your health care provider or an athletic trainer to see what is safe for you.
Picture source: www.sparkpeople.com
3. Bending too much at the hip: If you have to bend to pick something up off the ground, bend using your knees to distribute the stress or sit down on a chair and then reach for the item. Grab a long handled reacher to accomplish the same thing. Many different types of reachers are available and they help not only with picking things up from the floor but also with grasping those overhead items you can’t quite reach.
Other activities that require bending at the hip include putting on your clothes (pants, socks, etc.), tying your shoes (wear slip-ons or use elastic shoelaces that you don’t have to untie), as well as personal hygiene. There are sock aids to help you with putting on socks or stockings, shoe horns with extended handles to put on shoes and many other devices that can help with personal hygiene or other activities.
4. Remaining in one position for too long: Regardless of whether you sit, stand or bike for extended periods of time, it may be that the amount of time in one position is the issue more so than the activity itself. Do you experience stiffness when getting up from a chair? Try getting up more frequently. You could set a timer for every 30-45 minutes and just get up to walk a few steps. The overall amount of discomfort may be reduced over time.
Are there other things you avoid in order to minimize the pain? Do you have tips and tricks regarding how to make certain activities easier? Share them with us and the other readers of this blog in the comment section below.
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Part 3 of this blog deals with those factors you may not think about as they relate to your arthritis. How you take care of yourself, your attitude and your outlook play an important part in how you feel. While a positive outlook and a smile may not cure your pain, it can make it easier not to think about it and allow you to do the things that may actually alter what is causing the pain.
What you can do.
Pain can cause stress. Stress can cause muscle tension. Muscle tension can cause pain. Stress can be a vicious cycle that contributes to arthritis pain and dysfunction. Learning and practicing relaxation techniques can lead to less pain and a better outlook on your arthritis.
You can learn to enjoy a relaxing walk or swim. A yoga class can improve strength and flexibility and be relaxing. Be charitable - giving your time to others can be a great stress reliever. If you are spiritual, meditation, prayer and spending time with others who share your views can be healing.
What you should do.
Speak with your health care provider. Write a list of what hurts and when it hurts so you can have a frank and clear discussion to create a treatment plan. If your health care provider prescribes an anti-inflammatory drug, take it as directed. You need to have a therapeutic dose of medicine in order for it to be effective.
Don’t ignore the pain assuming it will go away. It may, but it also may come back. As with almost everything related to your health, taking care of problems early and learning how to manage the condition is the most important thing you CAN do when dealing with osteoarthritis.
OSTEOARTHRITIS AND SMOKING
The best thing to do is to never start smoking. The second best thing is to quit smoking. Though the links are not firmly established, a study at Mayo Clinic on men with knee OA showed that smokers were likely to have more cartilage loss than non-smokers and were likely to experience more pain than non-smokers.
Smoking reduces oxygen and blood flow to the tissues, reducing the ability of damaged tissues to heal. In addition, smoking may affect the cells that help maintain cartilage production. These are just two of the many good reasons to give up smoking.
We hope you found this blog series interesting. To read about other topics, please select from the list in the side bar. You can also subscribe to be notified when a new blog is posted. Feel free to leave comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.
Part 1 of the Blog Series
Part 2 of the Blog Series
As discussed in our previous blog, there are various causes for Osteo-Arthritis and for Rheumatoid Arthritis, OA and RA respectively. We will discuss several causes for OA or “degenerative joint disease” below and whether they can be avoided or not.
INJURIES AND ACTIVITIES
What you can’t change.
That knee you twisted repeatedly playing soccer when you were eight years old or that shoulder you dislocated on the football field could very well become arthritic in later years. You just might regret some of those contact sports and high risk activities of your youth such as skate boarding, skiing or rugby. While leading a sedentary life may reduce some of the risk of developing arthritis, being a couch potato has its risks as well.
What you can change.
You can do low-impact exercises that do not damage your joints. Swimming, biking, yoga and Pilates are all excellent ways to keep in shape, have fun and avoid repetitive stress on your joints. Well-cushioned shoes and shoes with a rocker sole make walking an excellent exercise you can do anywhere.
Keeping muscles strong and using proper biomechanics to lift or perform other activities can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury. It is great to get out in the garden to plant your spring flowers but be careful how you lift the bags of mulch and use tools that make digging and planting easier and more efficient.
If you do something that hurts, stop. If it is too late, treat even the slightest discomforts early and seek medical advice for any aches and pains that persist. A sprained wrist or ankle can lead to greater problems if left untreated and ultimately can cause you problems in other joints as well.
BODY TYPE AND WEIGHT
What you can’t change.
Being “big-boned” probably has nothing to do with developing OA with the exception that large men tend to be the ones on the football field and, as noted in the previous post, this is one of the contact sports strongly associated with the development of arthritis.
What you can change.
Obesity is a risk factor for OA, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), especially in the weight bearing hip and knee joints. This is one factor you do have an element of control over. Losing even small amounts of weight can reduce risk and is known to reduce the back, knee and hip pain caused by the added stress on these joints. Even your hands, wrist and shoulder can be affected by carrying excess weight.
There is plenty of good nutritional advice available and your health care provider is your best ally to lead you in the right direction. Plus, exercise and diet not only make sense, they complement each other. Exercise helps reduce weight and losing weight makes it easier to exercise. The combination can lead to a significant decrease in pain so it is a win all around.
Before deciding on a diet or exercise program, please discuss any changes you are thinking of making with your health care provider. There is nothing more frustrating than making a change and not being able to stick with it because it was not well planned or worse, makes the problem you are trying to alleviate worse.
Take advantage of any resources your health insurance provider makes available. You will be surprised at how many health plans make dietary services and exercise programs available as part of the cost of your premiums. A lot of health care plans really do want to play a part in helping to keep you healthy. It is in your interest and in theirs not to pay for expensive treatments like joint replacements that might be avoided with a good weight loss and exercise program.
For more information about what affects the progression of Osteo-Arthritis and whether you can or can’t do something about it, please see our next blog, which will deal with smoking and stress. To sign up for being notified by e-mail, please click here or sign up for the RSS feed at the top of the blog.
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Part 3 of the Blog Series
The aches and pains of arthritis can really disrupt regular life. And finding productive ways to eliminate suffering is an important step towards feeling happier and healthier. While previously doctors might have warned against trying yoga to help out with the pains of arthritis, these days facts show that it's a good idea. Instead of damaging joints, the practice of yoga teaches some of the most important components to being mindful about one's body and knowing productive ways to exercise it, rather than sticking with lifestyle choices that might cause more pain and damage.
One of the best parts about yoga for arthritis sufferers is that, compared to expensive medicines and personal trainers, it's a rather straightforward and budget-friendly activity. Learning the right breathing while in yoga class does more than simply assist in the exercises while in the moment; it also provides for a simpler way to calm down in all situations. For anyone who is feeling a bit stressed out or overwhelmed because of medical ailments or troubles in general, just the simple breathing exercises taught in a yoga class can considerably help out with any medical needs and mental quieting.
For those suffering from arthritis, it's important to know what kind of yoga to choose. Any reputable yoga clinic or center will not recommend deep sweat or hybrid forms of yoga that involve too much physical strain. In fact, yoga purists in general say that there is no point with that kind of stress on the body, as traditional yoga methods give just as much of a workout without needing to push people in an aggressive manner.
For those who are looking into yoga for the first time, a great place to start is with Gentle Yoga. This methodology focuses on slower movements, rather than stressful positions. By focusing on strengthening muscles and learning to properly stretch, Gentle Yoga often makes it a lot easier for first-timers to get into the flow of yoga. Using a mat, Gentle Yoga gets students on the floor for that "authentic" yoga experience, too, making those working out feel quite accomplished. For traditional names for gentle yoga practices, Anusara yoga and hatha yoga are two of the safest ways to begin the practice.
While choosing the right kind of yoga to practice is part of the equation for those with arthritis pains who want a change of pace, it is also helpful to understand what it is that yoga actually does to improve matters. Essentially, those dealing with arthritis pain are really dealing with a lack of fluid between joints, meaning that bones are rubbing together. Because the poses for yoga make it possible to stretch not just muscles, but joints, the fluid can make its way back to where it needs to be, allowing for considerable relief. And learning to discipline one's body to do this full-time means that the pain of arthritis can considerably lessen over time.
For those for whom the medicines and diet changes aren't doing enough, the decision to try out yoga can be one of the most relieving and fulfilling choices in the fight against arthritis pain. But more than just increasing lubrication between bones and working on stretching and breathing, yoga can provide an amount of energy and happiness for practitioners that manages to help them in other areas of life, not just in the struggle against bone and joint pain.
About the Author: Victoria Crowdell works for SportsEquip.co.uk, leading suppliers of ‘capital’ sports equipment such as tennis and football nets and wet pour safety surfaces.
In many parts of the country the beauty of autumn is unfolding with breathtaking foliage. The dry, cool air, the smell of warm apple cider, the colorful leaves fluttering down are reasons why fall is my favorite season.
Raking those colorful leaves is another story though, especially if you suffer from painful arthritis, an injury or other limiting conditions. Here are some common sense ideas to make leaf raking less of a painful chore and more of an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day outdoors.
Tips for Reducing Arthritis Joint Pain when Raking Leaves
- Have a plan before you head out the door to begin work. Consider the task at hand. How big is your yard? Are you starting in the front yard or the back yard? How can you break down the job into manageable pieces? Having a plan of attack will improve your efficiency resulting in less stress on painful joints. Check the weather forecast. You don’t want to be surprised by a windstorm that blows away the pile of leaves before you have had a chance to finish your project. Make sure to rake when leaves are dry so that they are lighter and easier to gather.
- Have all the equipment you need ready before you start. For instance, there are a wide variety of ergonomic rakes readily available at local hardware, home improvement and super stores or via the internet. An ergonomically correct rake might cost just a little more but will save you substantially by reducing finger pain, wrist pain, and back strain. There are styles of ergonomic rakes that can be adjusted to further reduce the chance of strain or injury. The snake rake is an example of an adjustable ergonomically designed rake. http://www.snakerake.com/home.html
If you are bagging your leaves, make sure you have the bags so you don’t have to stop your project to make a trip to the store in order to finish.
If you compost, you could also use a wheelbarrow to move the leaves. A large capacity option that lays flat so you can rake directly into it is the “Rake and go Cart” by Ames True Temper. http://www.backyardstyle.com/shop/index.php?page=shop-flypage-34471
Get comfortable work gloves. If you have arthritis in your hands good gloves are particularly important as your hands may be sensitive to the cold.
Be sure to wear any finger splints or wrist splints you use regularly to support your joints. The gloves mentioned above may also help keep your splints in place and clean.
Pull on your sturdy work shoes that provide good support and a jacket appropriate for the weather and you are ready to go!
Be physically prepared for your task. Perform some light stretches before you begin work and do a cool down stretch after you’ve finished.
Hydrate before you head out and have water available while you are working. Staying well hydrated decreases arthritis joint pain.
Make raking a family or neighborhood affair. Leaf raking is a great way to connect with your family and friends by doing something active together. Provide some of that apple cider and cookies to celebrate each other and a job well done.
Pace yourself. Whether you work alone or with a group make sure to pay attention to what your body is telling you and rest as necessary. The leaves will wait for you! If the job is more than you want to tackle, enlist the help of enterprising neighborhood youth to help you get the job done.
Give yourself some time to rest after you've been working. Raking leaves is hard, physical work and can aggravate painful joints. Be sure to rest afterward and follow other instructions from your doctor that you follow after any workout.
With a bit of planning autumn leaf raking will be easier on your joints and maybe even fun. By having a plan, taking your time, and asking for the help you need, pain caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or other painful conditions won't keep you from doing what you need to do. Happy (and comfortable) raking!!
Feel free to help someone else by sharing your own tips below.
If you are looking for additional tips, you might be interested in this blog post called “Tips for Autumn Leaves Clean Up” at the following web site: http://www.homeownernet.com/lawn-care-how-to/leavescleanup.html
Cheryl Wise, 3-Point Products
If you are looking to improve your hand muscle strength and joint range of motion due to arthritis, try these simple hand exercises. Start slowly doing the exercises several times a week and work up to daily for best results. These hand exercises should not cause pain, but, if you are experiencing challenges, try doing them while soaking your hands in warm water. Always start by relaxing your hand.
Finger Bends. Start by holding your fingers upright, straight and close together. Bend the end and middle joints of your fingers down. Keep them curled for 5 seconds. Your wrist and knuckles should remain straight. Slowly return your fingers to the starting position. Repeat 3 times. Then do the other hand.
Open Hand Stretch. Hold your hand upright and spread your fingers as wide apart as you can. Hold that position for 5 seconds. Slowly relax your fingers and bring them back together. Repeat this 3 times before moving to the other hand. Try to gradually increase the number of repetitions over time.
Make a Fist. Gently start with your fingers straight and spread apart. Make a loose fist wrapping your thumb around the outside of your curled fingers. Do not squeeze tightly. Hold 5 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times and then switch to the other hand.
Range of Motion. You can improve your flexibility, maintain joint movement and relieve stiffness with passive, range of motion exercises (allowing someone else to move your joints for you).
Weights. Try strengthening exercises using light weights to help maintain or increase your muscle strength. This will protect the joints that are affected by arthritis.
Dr. Lee received his BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his MD from Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Lee has done his share of writing throughout his academic and professional life. All of the writing required by medical school and physician training took its toll. After trying just about every pen and failing to find a truly comfortable one, Dr. Lee was determined to create his own. He is the inventor of the ergonomic pen called the UGLee Pen, which he designed to alleviate strain to the tendons which also means less inflammation, swelling and pressure on the nerves, alleviating arthritis pain.
When most people (especially those that do not suffer from the disease) think of arthritis, they are not likely to think about exercise as well. There is a general perception that the onset of arthritis somehow obliges the person in question to give up exercise in general, especially if the disease has begun afflicting the legs, hips and/or back.
Yet the reality is that not only can arthritis patients perform exercise, they should do it regularly to help keep the disease in check and to overcome some of its worst symptoms. Young people in particular, many of whom take the news of their arthritis with a heavy heart, should be aware of this and should do their utmost to just keep moving and to enjoy what still can be a very enjoyable life.
Undoubtedly there needs to be a certain respect for the limits imposed by the disease, and so a young person with arthritis should be aware of the fact that they won’t necessarily be able to exert themselves quite as intensely as some of their peers may. Yet that is by no means to say that exercise is out of the question.
It is perfectly OK for them to go ahead and to play a sport, join a team, as long as there is always a conscious effort to avoid over-exertion: it’s not OK to keep pushing if sharp pain surges nor should sports be played where heavy impact to the joints will be regular.
This leaves a lot of young people with arthritis wondering just exactly what forms of exercise it is okay for them to do. Ultimately this will depend on the type of arthritis, of which there are many, and the specific symptoms that it entails. What may be productive for a person with psoriatic arthritis may be counterproductive for a person with osteoarthritis, and so on and so forth.
Young people in particular are encouraged nonetheless to do a bit of all three of the major types of exercise: stretching, muscle building (mild on this one), and cardio. Stretching will help maintain the maximum range of motion in a person’s joints; muscle building helps provide support for the joints, alleviating them; while cardio exercises help maintain overall fitness.
There is one form of exercise that is, however, entirely beneficial for all patients of arthritis, whether young or old and regardless of the type of arthritis they have: warm water exercise, or hydrotherapy as some refer to it.
There are many key advantages to doing exercise in warm water. It is possible to do stretching, mild muscle building and cardio in the water for starters. Furthermore the resistance to body movements generated by the water makes every movement that much more productive, and the warm water itself relaxes both muscles and joints and provides the lower-gravity environment that arthritis patients find so comforting. If you suffer from arthritis joint pain and have yet to try out hydrotherapy, then you should definitely reconsider as the results have proven to be overwhelmingly favorable in a vast majority of cases.
About the Author: Victoria Crowdell works for SportsEquip.co.uk, leading suppliers of ‘capital’ sports equipment and wet pour safety surfaces.