Osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis is a relatively common condition. In a recent article, we described arthritis and the common reason people get it. Now, we will look at some things you can do for yourself if you have been diagnosed with arthritis. Make sure you check with your doctor before doing any exercises described in this article.
If your arthritis is primarily in your shoulders, one of the most important things you should do is maintain the motion in your shoulder joints. Reaching both arms overhead several times a day is vital even though it may be a little uncomfortable. You can also “walk” your fingers up a wall or move the more arthritic shoulder with the help of your other arm. A rope pulley device can be set up over a door by which your better arm can help raise your arthritic arm overhead.
The importance of maintaining joint mobility cannot be over emphasized. It might be helpful to arrange items in closets or shelves so that you don’t have to reach above your head with your arthritic arm for heavy items. Reaching for lighter objects is good and will encourage movement.
You also want to avoid compressing the joint and, instead, encourage stretching the joint. Avoid activities, such as lifting something heavy overhead or forcing weight through the arm by using your arm to shove hard, which push the two bones together in the joint. Instead, hold a one-pound weight in the hand of your affected shoulder and lean over with your upper body so that your back is parallel to the floor. Let your arm dangle, allowing the shoulder and arm to stretch to the floor. Then gently stretch your body from side to side so that your dangling arm makes large circles.
The hands and fingers are also prone to osteoarthritis. Simple things like using an electric can opener rather than a manual one, and using assistive devices to open jars can prove very helpful. Foam to fit over pens and utensils can be purchased to make writing and eating easier. A paraffin bath to dip your hand in can be purchased at a medical supply store. Dipping your hands in the bath and coating them with 5 to 7 layers of warm wax eases the discomfort and warms the joints. If you are unable to get a paraffin unit, just doing an activity such as washing dishes in warm water can ease the stiffness and decrease pain in the hands and fingers.
If your arthritic problems are localized to your hips or knees, take similar steps to reduce worsening the problem by decreasing the compressive forces on the legs. Avoid excessive kneeling or full squatting by rearranging kitchen and workshop shelves. If you tend to reach in the refrigerator a lot, consider a new refrigerator that has the freezer on the bottom, allowing easier access to the lower drawers. Avoid activities that further compress the joints, such as high impact aerobics or jogging.
Keep full active range of motion in the joints by doing mobility exercises. These include bringing first one knee, then the other up to your chest and then stretching your leg behind you while you stand. Also while standing, stretch your leg out to the side with your knee straight and then cross your leg in front of you. (Note: Do not cross your legs if you have had a hip operation.) To maintain motion in your knees, allow the knee to bend as much as it can, then straighten it as far as it can go. Move your legs smoothly, easily and slowly, and don’t extra-flex your muscles and lock your knee tight. Sit and do ankle pumping: Move your whole foot up, point your toes toward the ceiling, then down, and point your toes down and away to help keep your ankles mobile.
Avoid wearing elastic braces on your knees. They tend to give you a false sense of security and can compromise your circulation. Keeping an arthritic joint moving without adding a compressive force stimulates the body to produce an oil, called “synovial fluid,” that lubricates the joint. The more the joint is moved through a painless motion, the more limber the joint becomes. Spending time in a hot tub or spa may be of much help. Water’s buoyancy makes exercise routines done in a swimming pool one of the best ways to stay limber and strong.
We’ll look at water-based exercise routines in our next article.