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May 30, 2006 > Get Moving During Arthritis Month

Get Moving During Arthritis Month

Regular Exercise Helps Reduce Joint Pain

Get moving and do yourself a favor during Arthritis Month this May. That’s the message behind the Arthritis Foundation’s campaign to encourage people with arthritis to exercise regularly to strengthen muscles and reduce joint pain.

Arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of more than 100 medical conditions that affect nearly 70 million adults and 300,000 children in this country, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It attacks the musculoskeletal system, which can cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation.

The most prevalent form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the joint deteriorates, causing pain and loss of movement as bone begins to rub against bone.

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most serious and disabling types, affecting mostly women. It is an autoimmune disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed as part of the body’s immune system activity.

Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability among American adults. More than 7 million people in this country face physical limitations for everyday activities such as walking, dressing and bathing due to arthritis.

For many years, experts thought people with arthritis should not exercise because it would damage the joints. But research has shown exercise is essential to managing arthritis.

"Exercise helps reduce pain and stiffness," said Dr. Sabiha Rasheed, a Washington Hospital rheumatologist.

Regular, moderate exercise also increases flexibility, builds strong muscle around the joints and increases endurance. It helps to promote your overall health and well-being by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, decreasing depression, improving self-esteem and controlling weight.

"It’s very important to maintain a healthy weight when you have arthritis," Rasheed said.

There are a variety of actions you can take to stay on top of arthritis and manage the symptoms so you can live a healthy and full life.

Pay attention to symptoms. If you have pain, stiffness, or swelling around a joint for more than two weeks, it’s time to see your doctor. These symptoms can develop suddenly or slowly and only a doctor can determine if it’s arthritis.

Start early. The earlier an accurate diagnosis is made and treatment started, the better your prognosis. Early treatment can often mean less joint damage and less pain.

Protect your joints. Avoid excess stress on your joints. Maintain a healthy weight and use larger or stronger joints to carry things.

Take medication as prescribed. Stopping a medication abruptly can be downright dangerous. If you’re tempted to alter your dose because it’s not working or you are afraid of side-effects, talk to your doctor first.

Sit and soak. A warm bath before bed can relieve muscle tension, ease aching joints and help you get a good night’s sleep.

Consume calcium. A diet rich in calcium can help keep your bones strong and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen. Some forms of arthritis, as well as certain medications, can leave you more vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays.

Make a pack. When joints are hot and inflamed, applying a cold pack can decrease the pain and swelling.

And get moving! You don’t need to join a gym to get moving. You can receive health benefits through regular, moderate activity. Hiking, gardening and walking around the mall are all activities that get you moving. Exercising in the water can help build strength and increase range of motion, and the water’s buoyancy reduces wear and tear on sore joints.

To find out more about the latest treatments and surgical interventions for hand, elbow and wrist problems related to arthritis, join Rasheed and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Basil R. Besh for a seminar on living with arthritis scheduled for Tuesday, June 20, in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, Fremont. To register, call (800) 963-7070.

To learn more about arthritis, visit For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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