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What Can Arthritis Sufferers Do to Keep What They've Got?

Posted Oct 05 2010 5:00am

I'm talking about osteoarthritis (OA) - a condition of the joints that leads to a weakening of the cartilage that lines and protects the bones.

If you know you have OA, either your doctor has told you or your own Sherlock Holmes like powers of investigative work on the web have lead you to that conclusion, what you also know is that there's a daily temptation to avoid certain things; do less. You hurt. Or you think you will so you just don't go for a walk or the gym or garden or whatever.

Yet, it's those very things, in some form or variation, that can keep you active and prevent further decline. That's the conclusion from a recent studied published by Northwestern University.

Movement for OA is a sort of homepathic treatment. Homeopathic treatments use just a bit of the very thing that seems to be causing the symptoms. It's based on an axiom called the Law of Similars. So, do a little of the very thing that makes you hurt and you'll hurt less and get stronger.

The challenge is figuring out the little part.

So, I'll pass along some ideas for you.

  1. If you hurt when you walk too far, get a timer, put on your walking shoes, start the timer and walk. Stop the timer the moment you feel symptoms. Now, the next time you walk, use 50% of that value. So, let's say you can walk 30 minutes and you knees start to bother you. Walk 15 minute chunks. You'll probably even be able to walk more.
  2. Exercise in the water. In August, I flew to Daytona to visit my mother and sitting next to me on the plane was a very talkative, vibrant woman. "Beach Party Betty" is what she called herself. Now, normally, chit-chatting on a plane ride is not fun for me but this woman was fascinating. I asked her a couple of questions of course. "What do you do?" And off she went explaining how she taught water exercise and she was convinced that every "senior" needed to be in the water. She was 69 and acted and moved as if she was 40 or maybe younger. I asked her how often she taught classes. "Everyday except Sunday! Twice a day for an hour each time!" She explained to me that she got into it because of her own hip and knee pain and she found that riding her bike or hiking had become too painful but since she had been doing her water work, she had been able to resume all of her former activities. 
  3. Join a Tai Chi class. The slow, controlled movement combined with the mental focus is what I thank works in Tai Chi for folks with OA. I don't mean to discount the eastern philosophy of healing. I just don't understand it well enough to explain it.
  4. Start Yoga. Similar to Tai Chi, but perhaps with a bit more risk. Certain poses can be a problem but a good instructor will know that and be able to help you.
  5. Get some help to get started. Sometimes, you need professional help to get going. Weaknesses in certain muscles or inflexibility. If you're in Austin, call us . We really understand the issue of OA. Outside of Austin, look for therapists who can talk to you about the interaction of cartilage physiology and exercise. They should know how exercise alters joint health.
  6. Talk to a nutritionist about anti-inflammatory diets. Although these diets are not commonly used for OA, they are used for conditions such as Ankylosing Spondylitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Here's Andrew Weil's take on such a diet.

If you want to keep moving, keep moving. Find a way. Try one of the steps above and stay active.



Dunlop, D. D., P. Semanik, et al. "Moving to maintain function in knee osteoarthritis: evidence from the osteoarthritis initiative." Arch Phys Med Rehabil 91(5): 714-21.

Ni, G. X., L. Song, et al. "Tai chi improves physical function in older Chinese women with knee osteoarthritis." J Clin Rheumatol 16(2): 64-7.

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