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Published on November 24, 2015

Source: U.S. News

Osteoarthritis and Activity: Walking It Out

These exercises can help reduce pain and improve function in affected joints.

By Michael O. Schroeder

Step up to the Starting Line

If you have osteoarthritis, in which cartilage between joints becomes worn down, you might be inclined to stay on the sidelines and sit out exercise. After all, the most common form of arthritis can make movement difficult and achingly uncomfortable. “Patients may worry that exercising could worsen their disease and lead to more pain,” says Dr. Prakash Jayabalan, a sports medicine fellow at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, who’s studied walking exercise treatments for osteoarthritis. Research shows, however, that exercise reduces pain while improving mobility and quality of life in patients with the disease. “It is the most effective non-drug or surgical treatment for our patients," he adds. Here's how to get started.

Take a Walk

Before you begin any exercise regimen, talk with your doctor or another health professional, such as a physical therapist, to develop a routine that suits your needs and limitations. Walking is a great place to start, Jayabalan says, and it's something routinely prescribed to patients with osteoarthritis at RIC. Where running can pound knees, commonly affected by osteoarthritis, experts say walking can improve overall fitness, lessen discomfort, reduce stiffness in joints and lead to weight loss that can relieve stress on joints.

Workout in Water

From water aerobics to simply walking in the pool, being submerged – at least to above the waist – can provide gentle resistance and ease pain. “The water has a buoyancy that supports the joints, which is a relief,” says Marcy O’Koon, senior director for consumer health at the Arthritis Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing, controlling and finding a cure for arthritis. Water workouts are soothing, while still providing a physical challenge to improve joint health.

Go for a Swim

You’re already in the water. Why not go all in? Or ease in. “You can swim with a kickboard or with noodles,” to start, O’Koon says. A person with osteoarthritis in the shoulder, she says, may choose to rely more heavily on his legs to propel him through the water for an aerobic workout. Vary the time spent swimming as fitness allows and consider the stroke, too. Avoid the wider rotations of the butterfly stroke, say, in favor of freestyle or sidestroke, if you have an arthritic shoulder, so as not to exacerbate the condition.

Get on Two Wheels

Biking is a nice way to cover ground without overburdening hips and knees. Bonus: It also helps build strength, Jayabalan says. When muscles around affected joints are weak, it can put even more pressure on those joints and exacerbate osteoarthritis. Make equipment adjustments to accommodate your limitations, such as raising the handle bars or riding a bike where you sit more upright if you deal with shoulder, upper back or neck pain, O'Koon says. If you have balance issues or need to start with something less rigorous, try a stationary bike before hitting the road.

Become a Yoga Understudy

If you have osteoarthritis, odds are you won’t be doing an inverted pretzel any time soon. Or maybe you will. No one here is placing limits on you. The point is, experts say, even if you can’t touch your toes (to the back of your ears), you can benefit from limbering up to a degree appropriate for your body. Modify the yoga routine to your own flexibility, pain and fitness level. Use props, such as blocks, if you can’t put your knees on the ground, or rope pulls to extend your reach.

Try Tai Chi

This ancient martial art can do wonders for balance, helping prevent serious falls, a very real danger in older patients with limited range of motion from causes including osteoarthritis. “Balance is very important for people with arthritis,” O’Koon says. Evidence shows tai chi can also improve range of motion and function, as can yoga, while reducing pain. And Jayabalan notes that it can strengthen the core, making a person even steadier.

Lift Weights

Strength training allows a person to build up critical muscular support around an arthritic joint. As with other exercises, it’s very important that a person ease into lifting – whether using machines or free weights, experts say, and it's best to work closely with a health professional to ensure you get stronger without worsening your arthritis.

Stay Active While Monitoring the Pain

“With osteoarthritis … to some degree, it is normal to have some pain with movement,” says Dr. Christine Lee, a pain-management specialist at UCLA Medical Center–Santa Monica in California. But she and others caution against pushing through the pain if it's severe, which could lead to injury. Instead, treating the chronic condition and staying active routinely requires a multipronged approach, from medical therapy and medication to surgery as well as teamwork. “Talk to your doctor about how much physical activity you should be doing,” Lee says. And, she adds: “Keep moving.”

For full article, including illustrations, video, and comments, go to: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/slideshows/osteoarthritis-and-activity-walking-it-out