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Arthritis unravelled and broken down

One of the most consequential misconceptions surrounding arthritis is that only one type exists. According to Dr Ingrid Louw, a rheumatologist at Mediclinic Panorama, there are at least 100 types of arthritis; with osteoarthritis (OA) being a more common form of the disease. 

While there are several various variants of arthritis, Dr Louw points out two significant kinds of arthritis. There is osteoarthritis (OA) resulting from overuse of joints and the natural process of ageing, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory type related to the body’s immune system not working correctly.

When it comes to OA, the ‘shock-absorbing’ cartilage which protects bones gradually wears away, resulting in bone rubbing against bone (hence the chronic pain). On the other hand, RA is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a malfunctioning immune system attacks the body’s tissues. The joints are the main areas affected by this and over time can become damaged and deformed.

Another misconception regarding arthritis is that it only affects older people. This, however, is not the case at all.

Dr Louw highlights, that although 50% of people older than 45 get OA, the inflammatory types of arthritis can occur in children and young adults. She stresses that rheumatoid arthritis, for example, affects almost 1% of the population and usually starts between 40 and 60 years of age. Arthritis can appear in anyone at any time, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnic background.

It is essential to point out; the correct exercises can help ensure the muscles support the joints, thereby remaining strong, preventing them from stiffening up. Arthritis patients should avoid activity that strains the joints.

Exercises arthritis patients can look into, include:

Exercising in water

Some low-impact exercise in a warm swimming pool is ideal. Warm water will help increase your body temperature (as well as your circulation) while providing a healing combination of resistance underwater ( helping boost your strength) and buoyancy (which in removes some of the stress from your joints and muscles).

Resistance training

If you are not a keen swimmer, you should speak to your physio about your options with weight machines, free weights or resistance bands. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, resistance training can improve muscle strength, physical functioning and pain in up to 75% of people who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee.

Range-of-motion stretching

Many people with arthritis keep their affected joints bent, mainly because it hurts too much to straighten them out. By holding your joints in the same position for too long, the issue can cause lasting loss of mobility. This, in turn, only makes a bad situation worse.

Range-of-motion exercises can help alleviate stiffness by lightly straightening and bending your joints in a controlled manner, so they’re stretched to their ‘normal’ full extent.

With arthritis affecting people of all ages, it is imperative to remember to ask your GP for their advice before attempting any form of treatment or exercise yourself.

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