Despite many comedic routines about waking up with Arthur Itis, for those who suffer it's no laughing matter. Arthritis is an umbrella term for several dozen conditions, making the diagnosis, treatment and management difficult. Because of varying symptoms and different underlying causes, the things that may work for one patient may be far from ideal for another.
Just a few of the more common forms of arthritis include: osteoarthritis, which is the most common and caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints; gout, which is caused from a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints and other tissue; bursitis, which is caused when a fluid filled sac at the joint that normally reduces friction becomes swollen and painful from overuse; bunions, which are the enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe; and hammer toes, which are deformities caused by dislocations and often result in painful sores.
Some forms of arthritis can be caused by infections, such as reactive arthritis, which includes inflammation the joints, eyes and parts of the gastrointestinal/genitourinary system after infection, and infectious arthritis, which is caused by blood-borne infections settling in joints. Autoimmune disorders lead the body's immune system to attack healthy cells. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of smaller joints and can affect the internal organs, and psoriatic arthritis, which affects patients with chronic psoriasis (a skin condition) and causes swollen joints, stiffness, reduced flexibility and fatigue.
Older Americans are more prone to suffering from a form -- or forms -- of arthritis, but it is not, as once believed, an "old person's disease." Juvenile arthritis is the name given to any form of arthritis that is diagnosed in children under age 16; the most common form of juvenilea arthritis is rheumatoid, which comes in three forms -- systemic-onset, polyarticular-onset and pauciarticular-onset -- all defined by the amount of joints that are affected. More than two-thirds of arthritis sufferers are under the age of 65; however, it is very common in adults over 65. Obese adults also have a greater incidence of arthritic problems than those who are in a normal weight range. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 1 in 5 adults suffer from some form of arthritis and that number is expected to jump to 67 million by 2030. Since arthritis tends to promote inactivity, which can lead to obesity, hypertension, diabetes and disability, the CDC arthritis to be a public health problem.
Occasional sudden flares where the pain and swelling seem worse than usual may be discouraging. Although it may seem easier to avoid moving when you wake feeling stiff from arthritis, movement is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Regular activity helps to strengthen your muscles, lubricate your joints and keep your metabolism up. These things will help fight obesity, diabetes and cardiac conditions. Walking is good for the hips and thigh muscles and a great opportunity for fresh air and quiet meditation. A stationary bike is good for low-impact, cardiovascular exercise. Do arm curls or reach for the ceiling with small weights to strengthen arm and shoulder muscles. Let your own weight be the resistance by standing more than an arm's length from a wall and pushing off. It isn't necessary to pound your joints by running or to strain to lift heavy weights, moderate activity will go a long way without chancing injury.
The National Institute on Aging recommends arthritis sufferers do "range-of-motion exercises, like dancing, to help keep you flexible; strengthening exercises with weights to add to muscle strength; and aerobic or endurance exercises, like bicycle riding, to make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and also may lessen swelling in some joints."
Thanks to grants and support from the CDC, the Arthritis Foundation and the National Council on Aging are presently offering a free "interactive online workshop that will give you the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage your arthritis" as long as funds last. Signing up is easy. You can get on the waiting list by registering at http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-self-management-program; you will be notified when the next workshop is available.