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February is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) awareness month. RA can be diagnosed at any age. It is defined as a systemic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of our joints called the synovial membrane. It is classified as an autoimmune condition that is found in 5 or more joints and normally diagnosed within 6 months of symptom onset.
The disease process will eventually cause an erosion of the bone creating joint deformations typically of the hands and feet. Signs and symptoms can be tender, red, warm to the touch, swollen, stiff joints. Symptoms can vary with each individual, some have experienced weight loss and fatigue, however the common among most are stiff and painful joints. This is not a good combination when it comes to exercise or just general movement. Exercise for most is the last thing an individual will want to do.
Studies show that regular exercising aids the joints, muscles and surrounding tissue with proper fluids and mechanics to alleviate the pain and stiffness. Regular exercise reduces pain and maintains muscle strength. There are three types of exercise that are recommended for RA, stretching, strengthening, and conditioning. Stretching exercises improves flexibility and encourages movement in areas that may have become difficult to move. Strengthening exercises with or without weights provides that resistance training that will encourage bone growth from the muscles. Conditioning exercises establishes the cardiovascular health and gives the body the aerobic component.
If you are unsure where to begin based on the stage of your disease your Rheumatologist can start you in the right direction of exercise for you. Once cleared to exercise from your physician, begin with thirty minutes of low-impact such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. Warm water exercise (92-94 degrees) that targets range of motion of the joints does the body good. Some may feel the warm water is not a good combination for inflammation, however, where RA is concerned it is highly encouraged. The benefits of warm water exercise in individuals with RA are many. Since RA is an autoimmune response the warmer water acts on the tissues quickly creating relief from the symptoms. Strenuous exercise is not advised during a flare-up (severe time of inflammation). High impact exercise like running is not recommended due to the stress that can be placed on the joints; however, again your physician is the best advocate on your exercise stages. Do your body some good; ease your pain with movement. How do you deal with Arthritis?