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May 20, 2009 > Arthritis is Most Common Cause of Disability

Arthritis is Most Common Cause of Disability

Arthritis Awareness Month Focuses on Benefits of Physical Activity

Arthritis is a painful condition that can make it difficult to do simple tasks like get dressed or work in the garden. According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis tops the list of the most common causes of disability. But you can improve mobility and decrease pain by exercising and staying active. That's the message behind Arthritis Awareness Month this May.

"Physical activity helps to relieve the stiffness and pain associated with arthritis," said Dr. Sabiha Rasheed, who specializes in rheumatology at Washington Hospital. "Exercise also keeps your muscles strong and preserves bone density."

With more than 46 million people in the United States suffering from the chronic disease, it is likely you or someone you know has arthritis. There term is used to describe more than 100 different conditions that affect the joints.

"The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis," Rasheed said. "We still don't know what causes it."

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joints breaks down, allowing the bones to rub against each other. This causes pain, stiffness and loss of movement in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease, is also a more common type. It occurs when the lining of the joints becomes inflamed. It can lead to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability.

"If you have pain in your joints that doesn't go away in a few weeks, you should see a doctor," Rasheed said. "Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease and you need to get an early diagnosis so you can work with your doctor to find the best treatment to prevent deformity and joint erosion."
Medications Reduce Severity

While medications for osteoarthritis only treat the symptoms, there are medications available that can reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis and slow down its progression. These medicines can reduce joint inflammation and prevent or delay significant joint damage. Unfortunately, no medication has been developed that slows the breakdown of cartilage, which occurs with osteoarthritis.

"Many of my patients with osteoarthritis are finding some benefits from glucosamine," Rasheed said. "It's a natural supplement found in health food stores. It's fairly safe for most patients, although you shouldn't take it if you are on blood thinner medication."

Glucosamine is a compound found naturally in the body. Because the body's natural glucosamine is used to make and repair joint cartilage, taking glucosamine supplements may help repair damaged cartilage.

According to Rasheed, the most effective way to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis and improve quality of life is through lifestyle modifications like staying active and keeping your weight down. Bone density can be preserved by avoiding caffeine and eating more calcium-rich foods like milk, low-fat yogurt and broccoli, she added.

Get Moving

Exercise protects the joints by strengthening the muscles around them. It also increases flexibility and endurance. An exercise program can include anything from walking around the block to joining a yoga class.

Rasheed said people with arthritis should consult their doctors before getting started on an exercise regimen. She encourages her patients to find activities they enjoy so they will stick with them. If they are reluctant to start exercising because they are in too much pain, she suggests beginning with a water exercise program. The buoyancy of the water reduces stress on weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees and spine.

"Physical activity provides a number of health benefits," she said. "It gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, decreases depression, and promotes a sense of well-being. It also helps to keep your weight under control, which reduces the stress on weight-bearing joints."

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

Arthritis Education Seminar Coming in June

On Monday, June 29, Washington Hospital who host a Health and Wellness seminar titled: "Arthritis: Do I have One of the 100 Types." New treatment options for arthritis conditions will be discussed during and time will be allowed for Q&A. The seminar will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.

Arthritis Exercise Program Starts in June

The Washington Women's Center offers an arthritis exercise program designed exclusively for women with mild osteoporosis and arthritis. The next Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program will start on Monday, June 1. Two sessions meet twice a week (Mon & Wed) and (Mon & Thurs) for six weeks. Cost for the six-week program is $48. To enroll, contact Kathy Hesser, R.N., Washington Women's Center Coordinator at (510) 608-1356.

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