Ask St. Ann’s – Simple Exercises Can Ease Arthritis Pain

Ask anyone with a green thumb and they’ll tell you that tending a garden is good for the soul. But did you know it’s also good for the body, specifically joints and muscles that can be affected by osteoarthritis?

Gardening is a great example of the kind of daily exercise that can keep arthritis at bay as we age. Digging in the dirt gets the blood flowing, which can relieve pain and soreness in your hands and wrists. If you’re an older adult, consider using an elevated flower bed and long-handled tools to reduce stooping. A gardening stool or mat will also make you comfortable as you work. Just be careful: don’t lift too much, take precautions against sunburn and listen to your body when it needs a rest.

Like gardening, there are other simple ways to alleviate arthritis pain and slow its progression. We’ll look at three of these in a moment, but first some background.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis we see in the older adults we treat at Pillar Medical Associates. It’s caused by the wearing down of cartilage between the bones of our joints, causing the bones to rub together. This can result in stiffness of the joints, reduced range of motion, and pain. It primarily affects the knees, hips, and shoulders but can occur anywhere there’s wear and tear on our joints, including hands and ankles.

As we age, years of using our joints in work and daily activities can cause the cartilage to break down. This usually becomes noticeable when we reach our 50s or 60s and gets worse the older we get.

There’s a wide range in the severity of osteoarthritis. Severe cases may require steroidal injections for pain relief or even joint replacement.

However, if the discomfort is relatively mild or just becoming noticeable, simple exercises are the best nonmedical treatment.

• Range and flexibility exercises. It’s easy to believe that exercising will aggravate your joint pain, but actually the benefits far outweigh the risks; a lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff. Try gentle stretching that puts your joints through the full range of motion (such as raising your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders forward and backward). This supports the muscles around the joints and helps preserve mobility.

• Aerobic and strength exercises. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your health. When it comes to osteoarthritis, it not only helps reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation, it also helps with weight loss which decreases the pressure on your joints. Strength training with light weights and exercises such as squats support specific muscle groups.

• Aquatic exercises. These provide a good workout in a low-impact setting, perfect for older adults—just ask the residents of St. Ann’s Community at Chapel Oaks who use the indoor pool for aquafit and water aerobics! These exercises provide the same benefits as regular aerobics but with less pressure on the joints. The resistance experienced by exercising in a pool strengthens muscles and can improve balance and mobility.

As a complement to daily exercise, consider an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (Tylenol) or topical ointments/creams (Aspercream, Voltaren) for pain relief. As always, ask your healthcare provider for the treatment that’s right for you.

And by all means, get out there and garden!

 Rebecca Conklin, DO, is a physician with Pillar Medical Associates, a primary care practice focusing on the needs of older adults. She can be reached at 585-697-6416 or [email protected].

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