May is Arthritis Awareness Month!

By Riva Preil

Celebrate Arthritis Awareness Month this May with Beyond Basics Physical Therapy!  Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder that affects more than 50 million Americans.  It can be sub-categorized into many different diseases, including Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and Juvenile Arthritis (JA, an autoimmune disorder among children below age 16).  Some misunderstand the disease and think that it involves minor aging related aches and pains. However, arthritis is not something to take lightly- early diagnosis and symptom management is important to slow down the degenerative process and reduce the effects.

OA is the most common type of arthritis, and it is a progressive joint disease that involves degeneration of the articular cartilage. Cartilage is connective tissue that lines and protects joints. It allows fluid, smooth, pain-free movement and prevents bone from rubbing against bone. Impaired cartilage results in joint pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.  The risk factors associated with OA include increased age, joint injury or overuse (ex. work involving repetitive motion, such as baseball pitchers or landscapers), genetics, and obesity.  In fact, for every pound gained, four pounds of pressure are added to the knees.  The added load that the lower extremity joints are forced to withstand contributes to joint breakdown.  The common signs and symptoms of OA include joint soreness, especially after periods of overuse (ex. at the end of the day) OR underuse (ex. during the first thirty minutes of the day), decreased coordination and increased pain with walking, and overall stiffness.

RA affects approximately 1.3 million Americans, and is it considered an inflammatory autoimmune disease.  For some reason, the body attacks its own synovium, the membrane that lines the joints.  This results in a synovial buildup in the joints which causes pain and inflammation throughout the body.  It is much more common amongst females, and it is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic components.  The common symptoms of RA are joint swelling, warmth, pain, and decreased range of motion throughout the body.  As opposed to OA, which primarily affects the weight bearing and overused joints of the body, RA is a systemic inflammatory process that can affect the entire body. Appropriate exercises under the guidance of a skilled physical therapist, weight control, joint protection strategies, and medications can help alleviate symptoms and decrease further damage.

PT in the News: Jane Brody on Arthritis in The New York Times

At BBPT, one of our specialties is orthopedics, in which we treat musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis. Many Americans, including health writer Jane Brody of The New York Times, suffer from arthritis. This week, Brody wrote about her experience living with the condition and coping with a variety of techniques, including physical therapy. She quotes Dr. Kenneth Brandt:

“You should exercise affected joints,” Dr. Brandt said. “Muscles around the joints can atrophy — use them or lose them — and result in even more pain and stiffness.” He suggested consulting a physical therapist or exercise physiologist to help design “an exercise program that permits loading joints appropriately.”

Do you suffer from arthritis? What are some of your ways of coping? Tell us in the comments below!