Dealing with arthritis? Read this
The condition affects millions worldwide and 1 in 5 people in the UAE
In the UAE alone, studies have shown that there's a delay in the diagnosis of arthritis by around 12 months due to lack of awareness. With early diagnosis, treatment, deformity and disability can be prevented. At the Middle East Arthritis Foundation, our work starts with raising awareness for arthritis and continues with helping to educate the community as a whole. Arthritis goes well beyond people of old age having joint problems, though it is infamously known for its prevalence then. To name a few examples of the different kinds of arthritis affecting other age groups, there is juvenile arthritis which occurs in children under 16 and ankylosing spondylitis which affects males in their teens or twenties.
A factor like genetic predisposition is the cause of arthritis in people less than 55 years in most cases. 'Idiopathic' is a word that we, doctors, use to describe a condition when we don't exactly know its cause. In this case, it cannot really be prevented; however, a lot can be done to reduce the impact.
Vitamin D is essential for building healthy bones but may also play a role in regulating the immune system in an autoimmune disease. Generally, about 20 minutes of sun exposure daily is adequate. However, those with darker pigmented skin usually have more natural sun blocking melanin and may need more than half an hour of sun exposure daily for effective results. Being physically active also helps to alleviate arthritis symptoms, and is the key to staying mobile.
Our main priority is also to fight myths that are widely spread in society. For example, many people believe that arthritis is caused by cold weather or that it is not good to exercise with this condition. But it is known that exercise has multiple benefits including weight control, reduced stress on joints, increased flexibility and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The release of endorphins in the brain during exercise can also put someone in a better mood. According to various studies, physical activity can reduce pain and improve physical function by about 40 per cent. However, people with arthritis should take extra care as exercising incorrectly can lead to injuries and worsen the condition of the joints.
So, how often should people with arthritis exercise? This varies depending on the general health and fitness level of an individual. We generally recommend starting with a half an hour class three times a week, gradually increasing it by 5 minutes per session every week. There are many forms of exercise which are beneficial. It could be useful to cross-train or try a variety of exercise routines for best results. More generally, the best exercises for arthritis are walking, swimming, yoga and pilates. However, people with arthritis should always discuss their exercise plans with a doctor first.
Exercising correctly to prevent injury
Some basic principles of exercise include:
1) Warm up first for preferably 2 - 5 minutes. It is important to start exercise only after muscles are warm as this is when the muscle fibres are most flexible. Usually when you start sweating your muscles are warm.
2) Stretching should be done after the warm-up as the warm muscles are more receptive to the stretch. Stretching is best done by holding the pose which stretches the particular muscle for 20-30 seconds.
3) Conditioning and strengthening exercises. If you have not been exercising regularly then you may need to start conditioning for exercise slowly. If jogging or running, it is advisable to use a five-minute jog or runtime alternating with one- two minutes of walking. The time for running is slowly increased and walking decreased. When you are able to sustain a comfortable level or pace of running, then you can increase the speed of your run. A strength training programme using weights is also helpful. When muscles are stronger, they support the joints better, and there is a lower risk of injury. Strength training should focus on the sport being trained for as well. For instance, runners may need to focus more on lower body muscle strengthening while tennis players may need upper body and arm muscle strengthening.
4) Warm down gradually and stretch again.
Recommended exercises for people with arthritis:
Range-of-motion exercises: These exercises relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints
Strengthening exercises: These exercises help keep or increase muscle strength
Aerobic or endurance exercises: They help with your overall fitness
Body awareness exercises: Gentler forms of yoga or tai chi, can help you improve posture and coordination.