Get active to combat arthritis

For the nearly one in five Australians who suffer from arthritis, exercise could be key to helping increase muscle strength, joint movement and most importantly, reduce pain.

Arthritis Awareness Week is a great reminder that 3.85 million Australians suffer from arthritis (Access Economics, 2007), and that 62 per cent, or 2.4 million arthritis sufferers, are in the working age population of 15-64 years old.

Exercise & Sports Science Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell, says the annual awareness week is a great opportunity to remind people that exercise is as effective in relieving symptoms of arthritis as anti-inflammatory and pain medications. 

“A combination of strength training and aerobic exercise such as cycling, walking and using rowing machines will give the best results and in particular, water exercise is recommended to minimise the load on the joints,” said Ms Hobson-Powell.

“Other types of exercise such as Tai Chi, balancing exercises and stretching can also be beneficial but if people are in doubt about how to develop a tailored exercise regime, we encourage them to find an exercise physiologist who can tailor a program for them.”

Clinical guidelines recommend exercise to help reduce pain, increase muscle strength, improve the range of joint motion, improve balance and prevent loss of fitness and muscle wasting which are all symptoms of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a common chronic disorder of the joints, the cartilage that covers the surface of the joints wears down until little or none remains and the opposing bones rub together.  This may cause extra new bone to form around the joint surfaces causing pain and restricting joint access.

Professor Kim Bennell, Director of the multidisciplinary Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, in Physiotherapy at the School of Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, believes a common mistake sufferers from osteoarthritis make is to avoid exercise as they experience some discomfort in the affected joints during the exercise.

“Experiencing some discomfort is expected but that doesn’t mean that it is making the arthritis worse. We suggest that people start slowly and build their exercise regime gradually to monitor how they are progressing,” said Prof Bennell.

“Should there be a substantial increase in pain or swelling during or following exercise, this could indicate that the program requires modifications and we suggest at this point an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist is consulted.”

For more information on finding your local exercise physiologist, please visit www.essa.org.au.

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