Posted by: admin in Articles on April 7th, 2012

Don’t Take Arthritis Lying Down!  Years ago, doctors hardly ever told rheumatoid arthritis patients to “go take a hike” or “go for a swim.”  Arthritis was considered an inherent part of the aging process and a signal to the patient that it was time to slow down.  But not so anymore.  Recent research and clinical findings show that there is much more to life for the arthritis patient than the traditional recommendation of bed rest and drug thereapy.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?  The word “arthritis” means “joint inflammation” and is often used in reference to rheumatic diseases.  Rheumatic diseases include more than 100 conditions, including gout, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and many more.  Rheumatoid arthritis is also a rheumatic disease, affecting about 1 percent of the U.S. population (about 2.1 million people).  Although  rheumatoid arthritis often begins in middle age and is more frequent in the older generation, it can aso start at a young age.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints.  Several features distinguish it from other kinds of arthritis:

  • Tender, warm, and swollen joints.
  • Fatigue, soemtimes fever, and a general sense of not feeling well.
  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes after a long rest.
  • The condition is symmetrical.  If one hand is affected, the other one is also.
  • The wrist and finger joints closest to the hand are most frequently affected.  Neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, ankle, and feet joints can also be affected.
  • The disease can last for years and can affect other parts of the body, not only in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is highly individual.  Some people suffer from mild arthritis that lasts from a few months to a few years and then goes away.  Mild or moderate arthritis has periods of worsening symptoms (flares) and periods of remissions, when the the patient feels better.  People with severe arthritis feel pain most of the time.  The pain lasts for many years and can cause serious joint damage and disability.

Should Arthritis Patients Exercise?  Exercise is critical in successful arthritis management.  It helps maintain healthy and strong muscles, joint mobility, flexibility, endurance, and helps control weight.  Rest, on the other hand, helps to decrease active inflammation, pain, and fatigue.  For best results, arthritis patients need a good balance between the two:  more rest during the active phase of arthritis, and more exercise during remission.  During the acute systematic flares or local joint flares, patients should put joints through their full range of motion once a day, with periods of rest.  To see how much rest is best during flares, patients should talk to their health care providers.

The following exercises are most frequently recommended for patients with arthritis:

  • Range of motion exercises-stretching and dance help maintain normal joint movement and increase joint flexibility.   These can be done daily and should be done at least every other day.
  • Strengthening exercises-weight lifting will help improve muscle strength which is important to support and protect joints affected by arthritis.  Should be done every other day unless pain and swelling are severe.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises-walking, bicycle riding, and swimming will help improve the cardiovascular system and muscle tone and control weight.  Swimming is especially valuable because of its minimal risk of stress injuries and low impact on the body.  Should be done for 20-30 minutes three times a week unless pain and swelling are severe.

If the patient experiences unusual or persistent fatigue, increased weakness, decreased range of motion, increased joint swelling, or pain that lasts more than one hour after exercising, they need to talk to their health care provider.  Doctors of chiropractic will help patients develop exercise programs to achieve maximum health benefits with minimal discomfort and will identify the activities that are off limits for this particular arthritis patient.

Nutrition for the Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient:    Arthritis medications help suppress the immune system and slow the progression of the disease, but for those who prefer an alternative approach, nutrition may provide complementary support.  Evidence shows that nutrition may play a role in controlling the inflammation and possibly slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.  Some foods and nutritional supplements may be helpful in managing arthritis:

  • Fatty-acid supplements
  • Deep-sea fish such as salmon tuna, herring, halibut
  • Tumeric-a spice that is used to make curry dishes may also be helpful.  A 95% curcuminoid extract has been shown to significantly inhibit the inflammatory cascade and provide relief of joint inflammation and pain.
  • Ginger extract-shown to be beneficial in terms of inflammation.
  • Nettle leaf extract-may inhibit some inflammatory pathways.
  • A vegetarian or low-allergen diet.

Always consult your health care provider for advice in beginning a diet regimen for your condition.

What Can Your Chiropractor Do?  If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor of chiropractic may help you plan an individualized exercise program the may help you restore the lost range of motion to your joints, improve your flexiility and endurance, and increase your muscle tone and strength.  Doctors of chiropractic may also give you nutrition and supplementation advice that may be helpful in controlling and reducing joint inflammation.*

*(reprinted in part with the permission of The American Chiropractic Association).


No individuals, including those under our active care, should use the information, resources or tools contained within to self-diagnose or self-treat any health-related condition. Diagnosis and treatment of all health conditions should only be performed by the doctor or other licensed health care professional.
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