Arthritis is estimated to affect approximately 250 million people worldwide and cost $81 billion in direct medical costs annually (NCCDPHP. 2017). The term arthritis actually refers to numerous different conditions that cause inflammation of one or more joints. The most common of these conditions is osteoarthritis (OA) which often causes joint pain and stiffness.
When diagnosed with OA many people begin to feel fearful of exercise. They may be afraid that physical activity will make the condition worse, when in fact the opposite is true. The majority of people with OA will experience a reduction in their pain and a slowing of the progression of symptoms with regular exercise and activity. Those who are not educated about safe exercise tend to become more sedentary which puts them at risk for developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Large amounts of research have shown that exercise not only reduces pain and disability from OA but it also protects against at least 35 other chronic medical conditions. Regular exercise has a wide range of benefits including improved attitude, circulation, weight loss, endurance, sleep and can even reduce depression. There are a myriad of other benefits too lengthy to list here.
People with OA should meet with a physical therapist prior to initiating an exercise program. Each person is unique and should receive individualized instruction to meet their specific needs and clinical presentation. Both aerobic conditioning and strength training for major muscle groups should be included in a comprehensive program. Three or more exercise sessions each week have been shown to be effective for reducing pain and disability related to OA. Furthermore, people who received 12 or more sessions of supervised exercise with a therapist had better outcomes.
If you have joint pain and stiffness, contact an expert physical therapist to get started with an individualized exercise and treatment plan to meet your specific needs.