Stiff joints, aches, swelling and pain. This is life for many of the more than 50 million Americans, or 1 in 5 adults, who have arthritis. And they're not necessarily old. According to the Arthritis Foundation, two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65, and annually 21 million people with arthritis are affected by activity limitations.
The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, known as OA, which is a degenerative joint disease that's known for breaking down joint cartilage, and rheumatoid arthritis, known as RA, which causes inflammation all over the body. Juvenile arthritis is any arthritis diagnosed when a patient is younger than 18.
"It is important to do what you love when you have arthritis, because one of the greatest factors involved with improving the quality of living is motivation," says Dr. Artemio Del Real, a primary care physician in Chicago who specializes in musculoskeletal and nervous systems. "Doing what you love will motivate you every day to get moving and be active."
Dr. Del Real, who suggests people with arthritis should get evaluated by a doctor, also suggests stretches and exercises "that move the joint repeatedly while decreasing pain, increasing range of motion and improving the quality of moving."
He explains that staying active is important "because the sedentary lifestyle promotes increased amounts of stiffness, decreased amounts of laxity and shortening of tissues leading to contracted joints and muscles."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people with diagnosed arthritis report "significant limitations," such as difficulty walking a quarter-mile; stooping, bending and kneeling; or climbing stairs and engaging in social activities.
Frequent stretching and exercises like walking, swimming and biking can keep muscles and joints from getting stiff. The Arthritis Foundation, for example, offers warm-water aquatics classes on various skill levels, as well as tai chi classes for balance and flexibility.
While exercise is essential for arthritis patients, they should start slow and build up their stretching and fitness routines.
Just because you have arthritis doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite activities, such as painting, sewing and crafting.
"If you stop doing the activities you love because of the arthritis, you let the disease control you," says Jennifer Meyers, who was diagnosed with arthritis at age 2. "Arthritis is not a disease that you must suffer from. It is a disease you can live with daily, while making accommodations to continue to engage in activities that bring you pleasure."
Now 28 and an office manager at Autumn Meadows senior assisted living facility, Meyers uses her firsthand experience to help others with the disease.
Many Autumn Meadows residents who have arthritis and other conditions stay active in creative ways.
"Bowling is a popular activity, yet it's difficult for people with arthritis to grip the ball," says
Susan Masters, director and owner of Autumn Meadows, adds that the staff "introduced a Wii in (the) facilities, and the residents love to virtually participate in sports such as bowling."
Another resident who "loves to crochet" uses bamboo needles, which are lighter and easier to handle than traditional aluminum or wood crochet needles.
Instead of giving up on a favorite activity, look for ways to ease your aches and keep enjoying what you love.
Take breaks during your activities too, so you can rest certain muscles while engaging others. Use hand, wrist and elbow braces as needed for relief from pressure on those joints.
*Arthritis Stretching and Exercise Tips
Source: Dr. Artemio Del Real
1) Focus on stretching frequently throughout the day, including 10-15 repetitions every few hours "to continuously provide movement in the joints throughout the day."
2) Stretch and move major joints like the lower back, hips, neck, shoulders and mid-back, which can significantly improve "quality of moving."
3) Before starting any rehabilitative exercise program, discuss the program with your doctor.