Arthritis is a painful and debilitating condition that happens to be common among older adults. It has been estimated that at least 92.1 million adults currently living in the United States have either an official diagnosis of arthritis from their healthcare provider, or they report having joint pain and other symptoms that are consistent with a diagnosis of arthritis. While the chronic pain that is associated with arthritis would be a troubling enough issue on its own, arthritis also has a very profound and detrimental effect on the quality of life for those who suffer from it, especially older adults.
Arthritis is not one condition, but rather the umbrella term for any joint disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis, each distinct in their own way. The most common form of arthritis, however, is osteoarthritis, which is often referred to as OA. Osteoarthritis is also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, and women are twice as likely as men to develop it.
In its most severe form, arthritis can cause functional disability, loss of joint motion and overall strength, sleep disturbances, depression, and more. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that can affect any of the joints in the body, but most often occurs in the knees, hips, lower back, neck, small joints of the fingers, and at the base of the thumb or the big toes. While there is sadly, at this time, no cure for arthritis, there are many options for treatment and management.
The causes of arthritis aren’t fully understood, but it occurs most often in people who have suffered joint injuries, or engaged regularly in sports or hobbies that involved repetitive use of their joints. Joints have a lining of cartilage for protection, forming a slippery surface for cushioning and lubrication to ease joint movements. Osteoarthritis develops when this lining breaks down over time, causing bone spurs, tears, and eventually areas without cartilage where bone rubs on bone.
Arthritis can impact quality of life by hindering the ability to perform the basic activities of daily living, such as showering, dressing, and even just getting around the house. Chronic arthritis can make it difficult to stand up from chairs, get in and out of bed, and sometimes even just standing.
While it may seem counterintuitive for painful joints, the best treatment for osteoarthritis is physical therapy and exercise. Many people who treat their arthritis with physical therapy often find their ability to join in activities with family and friends is improved. Exercise and physical therapy can boost their range of motion, walking tolerance, and more, allowing them to better participate in important events like travel, weddings, reunions, parties, and more.
Low impact exercises, such as walking, biking, swimming and other water activities, are best for osteoarthritis. By not subjecting the joints to stress or impacts, you can gently increase your dexterity while reducing your overall pain. Running, jogging, rope jumping, sports, or any other high impact exercises where both feet are off the ground at the same time should be avoided.