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Tips on Dealing with Arthritis

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When we were kids, arthritis seemed a million years away. It was an old person's disease. Maybe not as funny (at the time) as hemorrhoids or back hair, but still, an affliction not to be worried about for a while.

But then we got older. Nowadays, those knees just don't seem to work as well as they did in high school. Maybe that tennis elbow has turned into something more chronic. What happened? You're not old yet!

Well, no, you're not, but that doesn't matter. Arthritis may be more prevalent in the elderly, but one in three American adults suffers from some form of the disease, and that includes spring chickens like you.

Arthritis comes from the Greek word arthron, which means "joint," and the Greek suffix -itis, which means "swelling." It's not actually an affliction but a general term for a group of over 100 diseases associated with joint swelling, stiffness, and pain.

One of the better-known types of arthritis is osteoarthritis, in which the protective pads at the ends of the bones, called cartilage, wear away, so that the bones rub against each other. Another common form is rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system accidentally wages war against your joint lining, causing swelling. Then there's gout, in which an excess of uric acid causes small, sharp crystals to form on the joint, causing intense pain.

There are scores of treatments and medications for these diseases, and it's best to get a doctor and a physical therapist involved if you think you have a serious problem. However, there's plenty you can do now to prevent arthritis from setting in, or to keep that annoying elbow injury from blossoming into full-tilt, debilitating arthritis later in life.

  1. First thing you can do is eat right with an eye on losing weight. The heavier you are, the more stress you put on your joints. And the more stress you put on almost anything in your body, the quicker it wears out.

  2. As long as you're eating right, why not throw a workout in there? Exercise helps with arthritis in so many ways, it's not even funny. It can both relieve pain and prevent further injury. Strengthening exercises can build the muscles around a weak joint to help keep it stable. Aerobic exercise can help with that weight loss we mentioned earlier. Range-of-movement exercises, many of which are also aerobic, can keep affected joints mobile and comfortable in a wider range of positions.

    Keep in mind that arthritic joints are operating in a weakened state, making them somewhat more fragile, so if you'd like to build up strength or really work on range of movement, a physical therapist will be able to make suggestions that won't potentially cause further damage.

  3. In order to keep joints from going arthritic, it's important to take care of minor injuries, no matter how hard you want to "work through it." Even the smallest of twists, sprains, or strains can, if not looked after, leave scar tissue, which can increase the chance of the joint's becoming arthritic.

  4. So before you even begin exercise, prevent these injuries from happening by warming up, cooling down, and taking time to stretch at least once a day. When an injury happens, allow it to heal, and make sure to keep stretching. Keeping muscles loose and comfortable can prevent the formation of scar tissue. That said, don't overdo it. Don't stretch before working out and don't stretch to the point of discomfort. An overstretched muscle doesn't offer support to the joint, and that can lead to further injury.

A final important aspect of exercise for the arthritis sufferer is that it makes you feel good. As I said, most of us think of this as an old person's disease—and no one wants to get old. By lifting those weights or going for those walks, we're keeping ourselves young and keeping our bodies useful. So if you think it might be happening to you, take it head-on and get yourself healthy. See a doctor, start eating right, and get up out of that La-Z-Boy! It won't be as easy to fix as that back hair, but it'll be far more rewarding.

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