Balancing Life with Osteoarthritis
By: Megan Piersol
Age is not always a good excuse for the problems you are having. Yes, there are some natural things that happen to us as we get older, but it doesn’t have to mean that it has to hinder your function and movements. The strain we place on our bodies from improper muscle balance, inactivity, improper activity, decreased flexibility, poor posture, a combination, and/or repetitive stressors is what causes our problems. This occurs over time, which, yes, makes us older, but it isn’t always because of age that you are experiencing difficulty or pain. This same concept goes for Osteoarthritis. We have natural wear and tear of our bodies, like a well-run car. However, depending on if you drive with the brake on, accidentally drive with the clutch on from occasion, speed and then have to brake fast, don’t get regular tune ups and oil changes, use the wrong gas or oil, or always drive the same route, the car wears out faster. Your body is no different. It is the repetitive use, compensations we use, and poor postures or mechanics that make our body wear out faster. The good news is that there are ways to be proactive at improving your function and lessen pain. In this post, I will address some things that you can start doing now to help your joints and well-being.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that involves the wearing down of tissues in the joint or of the joint itself. It usually occurs after age 45-50, but can occur sooner depending on previous injuries, mechanical deviations in posture or imbalances in muscles around a joint, excess weight, repetitive activity, and/or other health co-morbidities. Each joint of our body is lined with a thick and slippery tissue to allow easier motion. This is much like the thick, slippery oil placed on a bike chain that allow the bike chain to glide smoothly. Osteoarthritis causes this nice slippery surface to become rougher. This can lead to a gritty feeling, decrease flexibility, stiffness, tenderness, and bone spurs.
Fortunately, blood and other natural body productions can help lubrication our joints. Movement and regular activity are what instigates lubrication to our cartilage to allow improved mobility and less stiffness. We tend to be stiffer as we wake up in the morning due to lack of movement during our resting hours. Thus, it takes a few steps and moving around to feel less stiff. It is movement that pumps fluid through our joints and keeps them lubricated. If you don’t move, your body “rusts” and you’re left standing like the tin man begging for Dorothy to come give you oil. Let movement be your Dorothy. The best things for helping with Osteoarthritis is movement and building up strength at and around the joints of your problem area. It is always best to find exercises that aren’t painful and that you enjoy, otherwise, you will be less inclined to carry out the routine. Skeletal muscle is the largest organ in the body, so it makes sense to make sure we keep this organ well balanced and working properly.
Movement not only helps with OA, but it has added benefits to our general health. Exercise reduces anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and some symptoms of neurological conditions such as allowing better posture and movement for Parkinson’s. Exercise is also beneficial for reducing chronic pain. You just have to find the right exercise for your body. Exercises also enhances your wellness by releasing chemicals, hormones, in your brain/body that can improve movement, mind-set, relaxation, and physical performance. There really is no loss here!
The goals for exercise to improve your well-being are ones that help promote flexibility, strength and endurance gains, proprioception (body awareness), and that YOU enjoy! If all of these are a part of your daily routine, then you are on top of the game. You need moderate exercise to benefit your body. This doesn’t have to be done all in one long period. It can be done in small increments throughout the day. You should always start at a comfortable level and work up from there. It is better to find an activity that you enjoy and can accomplish as it will make you more likely to stick to your routine. There are several OA support groups, OA focused personal trainers, and certainly physical therapists that can get you on the right track! You just have to make the decision to start, commit, and not give up. Strength, endurance, and body awareness take time to build. If you aren’t used to exercise or have been dormant for many years, you can’t expect your body to just bounce back quickly and be pain free right away. Give yourself realistic goals; set small goals to achieve along the way to help you reach those bigger goals.