Did you know in the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis?
This month we invited Sports Rehabilitation Therapist Marcus Cook to write for us. Marcus works for the NHS within a busy Physiotherapy department. His work involves treating patients who suffer from pain and injuries many of which have arthritis. This includes exercise rehabilitation.
Marcus Cook – Living with Arthritis
Living with arthritis can be difficult but you don’t have to let joint discomfort and stiffness prevent you from doing the many things you enjoy. The most common forms of arthritis in the UK are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Arthritis describes the inflammatory changes in the structure of a joint, or several joints, and is often used to include all joint disorders.
Whatever type of arthritis you have, it’s very important you stay as mobile and as active as possible as this can reduce your pain, help you to stay independent and improve your self-confidence.
Most people with arthritis are afraid to exercise
Many people fear that exercise will cause further damage to their joints. However, by not exercising we are at risk of causing harm to the tissues in and around the joints. Your body is designed to move, if you stay still for too long, your muscles will start to ache and your joints will get stiff. If you have arthritis and are in some discomfort, your natural reaction is to not want to move. This then causes even more stiffness, and in the long term your muscles get weak and can no longer hold you in the right position. You may then start to slouch and end up with more aches and pains.
Exercise has many benefits.
Firstly it can help ease stiffness, it will also improve movement in your joints and strengthen your muscles, as well as helping you to get fitter in general. Often you’ll feel much better and more self-confident when you’ve done some exercise. Feeling positive can really affect the way you cope with a condition.
Exercise doesn’t need to involve equipment
- Stretching exercises help ease aches and pains and get the best movement from your joints.
- Strengthening exercises are important because we rely on our muscles to support our joints and keep them in the right position when we move.
Some people find that doing exercise in a group gives them extra motivation to keep going, and it can be a good way to meet people with the same interests.
Even if you’re active, most of us never take our joints through their full range of movement. Because of this, in time, the ligaments and tendons around the joints can get tight and this can be uncomfortable and painful. Always stretch safely and as far as you comfortably can. You should never ‘bounce’ a joint when doing any exercises.
Your natural reaction when you’re in pain is to not want to move. A bout of flu can leave you weak and wobbly after just a few days in bed, so imagine what can happen if you don’t move your joints properly for a few weeks, months or even years. You’re left not being able to do what you previously could. This is not just because of pain in your joints but also because of weakness in the muscles around them. If your joints are especially hot or swollen, it’s probably a good idea to leave out the strengthening exercises until they settle down again.
To strengthen muscles we usually need to move them against some resistance. Even standing up from a chair will mean you’re strengthening your leg muscles because you’re working against gravity. All strengthening exercises should be done slowly. Start with a low number of repetitions and build up the number gradually. Remember it’s normal to get some muscle soreness after exercise, especially if you’re not used to exercising. However, you should stop if you find you have more pain either in your muscles or in the joints. If you’re back to normal by the next day, carry on slowly and gradually increase the amount each week.
So the good news is there are things you can do to make you feel better. Find an activity you enjoy, have belief in yourself and just keep moving!
Always check with your GP or consultant before starting any exercise regime.