For millions of people, the process of aging includes sore, achy joints, which make movement uncomfortable at best, and agonizingly painful at worst. Movement, however, may be what is most needed to find relief.
Osteoarthritis(OA), the most common form of arthritis, affects mainly weight bearing joints: hips, spine and knees. In this form, the cartilage, or padding, in our joints becomes thinner, and the ends of the bones have to bear more of the burden of our weight than they were designed to. In his book, The Exercise Cure, Jordan D. Metzl, MD writes that “strength controls pain”, and suggests that exercise helps on two fronts. First, it can aid in weight loss, which lightens the burden on the joints. Second, building muscular strength around the joints, helps to stabilize the bones and relieves them of some of their shock-absorbing duties.
Metzl suggests that for severe pain, water-based exercises are best, and for less intense pain, recommends adding brisk walking. He prescribes strength and flexibility training for all levels of pain. He insists that high-impact activities should be avoided for anyone with OA.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, a condition that affects millions in America alone, can be felt in any joint of the body, and leaves swelling, pain, and stiffness in it’s wake. It’s a condition that’s especially frustrating because it is a sign that the body is attacking itself, recognizing its own tissues as the enemy.
I teach a class designed for women over 50, and over the last 8 years, I’ve had a number of clients struggle with RA. They stop coming to class for awhile, and then come back, because they begin to notice that not moving at all is not helping them. They feel trapped, movement feels painful, and doing nothing seems to make it worse.
A new study suggests that for RA, moving is helpful, and moving faster may be even more helpful. High-intensity interval training with spinning bikes resulted in less inflammation response than longer, less intense exercise. Since inflammation is what causes the pain with RA, adding short bursts of more intense exercise may indeed be just what the doctor ordered.
While joint pain may not be completely reversible, it is promising that there continues to be research that shows how it can at least be managed. The trick, of course, is being able to move through the pain, engaging in the level of exercise that’s right for you, and doing it consistently. There is hope, however, in knowing that others have found relief in doing just that.