The winter season can be tough on many people who have to deal with certain ailments on a daily basis. The most common ailments are cold, cough, fever, and sinus problems. While these ailments may not be a great cause for concern, the winter season can affect people who are suffering from more serious illnesses. Case in point – arthritis.
There is no doubt that people who suffer from arthritis or joint pain dread the winter season to a great extent. That is because the cold weather can aggravate arthritis symptoms like pain and stiffness. This can lead to great discomfort physically as well as mentally. However, the days of fretting are over. There are some simple and easy exercises that can be done at home to combat this problem.
Before we get into the details of the exercises, it is important that we completely understand the joint disorder, as well as its types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
- Defining Arthritis: This is a joint disorder that attacks the musculoskeletal system and is mainly characterized by inflammation of one or multiple joints. The inflammation leads to joint pain and swelling. Joint pain can also be caused by damage to the joint itself, or muscle strain due to forceful movement. The term arthritis is derived from Greek and Latin words. The Greek word arthron means ‘joint’, while the Latin word itis means ‘inflammation’.
- Types of Arthritis: The term arthritis does not imply a single disease but numerous medical conditions. Some of the common types of arthritis include:
- Septic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Gout and pseudo-gout
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
- Causes of Arthritis: This disease can be caused due to various reasons. This leads to different types of arthritis. Generally, patients develop Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.Osteoarthritis, the most common form of this disease, reduces the general amount of cartilage, the connective tissue, which absorbs the shocks or pressures that are created when walking or running. Cartilage also prevents the bones from rubbing against one another. The reduction of cartilage leads to immense pain.Another cause for arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It is a situation when the immune systems begins to attack certain parts of the body, in this case, the joints. This types of disease is known as Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Arthritic Symptoms: While there may be different types of arthritis, there are a few common symptoms that can help a doctor to effectively diagnose the condition:
- Joint pain and stiffness (this usually occurs in the morning)
- Swelling of the joint
- Redness of skin around the inflamed joint
- Joint deformity (in serious cases)
- Fever – rheumatoid arthritis
- Loss of appetite – rheumatoid arthritis
To be able to diagnose arthritis, the physician first conducts a physical examination of the joint. The doctor checks for the range of motion and movements, which can be performed using the joint. He also checks to see if there is any fluid or redness around the joint. A doctor may also suggest getting a CT, MRI, or X-ray scan to determine the state of the joint, cartilage, and bones.
Once the joint disorder has been diagnosed, the primary objective of the doctor is to alleviate as much pain from the joint as possible. The doctor also tries to ensure that the patient is able to enhance the joint’s basic function. These two goals can be met by different treatments.
- Medication: The doctor may prescribe painkillers such Vicodin or Tylenol to relieve the patient of pain. He may also prescribe Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control both the pain and inflammation. He may also suggest certain creams that can be used to reduce the inflammation. If the patient has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the doctor may prescribe corticosteroids that can help suppress the immune system.
- Surgery: In a worst case situation, the doctor may suggest an operation to replace the old joint with an artificial one. Artificial knees and hips are designed for this purpose. If the inflammation is in the wrists or fingers, the doctor performs joint fusion. The doctor joins the ends of the bones together, giving the joint time to heal properly.
- Physical Therapy: Apart from medication, the doctor may also suggest physical therapy. This involves the patient performing various exercises to strengthen the muscles and help reduce weight.
Why is Exercise Important for Arthritis?
There are various reasons why certain exercises can help alleviate joint pain. These reasons are simple:
- Exercise strengthens the muscles and tissues that surround and support the joint.
- Regular exercise can help you maintain a certain amount of bone strength for daily activities.
- It can help you perform simple activities like walking from room to room with less pain and stiffness.
- Exercise can also tire you out enough to get good sleep at night.
Alleviate Arthritis Pain and Stiffness with Exercises
Here are certain exercises that are generally recommended by physicians and rheumatologists when dealing with arthritic pain.
- Range-of-motion exercises: These exercises are designed to alleviate stiffness, and help a patient move the joint through its complete range of motion. Range-of-motion exercises may involve simple movements such as rolling your head, rolling your shoulders, or raising your arms over your head. These exercises can be performed either daily or intermittently during the week.
- Strengthening exercises: As the name suggests, strengthening exercises are used to build up the muscles that surround and support the inflamed joint. A perfect example of this would be weight training. This can help you to maintain muscle tone and strength so you won’t suffer from stiffness or pain. It is recommended to perform strengthening exercises on a daily basis, as they will allow you to perform your regular activities without a lot of discomforts.
- Aerobic exercise: These exercises are particularly important for patients who are suffering from the early stages of arthritis. Low-impact aerobic exercises like swimming, jogging, or cycling can help strengthen the joint area as well as increase your overall fitness. It is recommended that you perform such exercises for a minimum time of 30 minutes at least three times a week.
- Alternative Activities: Besides the previously mentioned exercises, there are other activities that you can try to relieve yourself of arthritic pain. The Chinese exercise of Tai Chi is well-known to help patients maintain balance and prevent falls. Yoga is exceptionally good for maintaining the strength and flexibility of muscles and joints. However, it is always recommended that you always get your doctor’s approval before performing such exercises.
Arthritis can be a debilitating disease. However, with the right kinds of exercises, you can look forward to living comfortably without joint pain or stiffness.