An active approach to arthritis

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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Health Disorder can't be cured, but it can be managed

It can be hard to stay positive when you find out you have a disorder with no known cure.

That's the case with all forms of arthritis, which involve inflammation of the joints which leads to pain, stiffness, redness and swelling.

Arthritis, however, can be managed, and that was one of the messages stressed last week at a forum hosted at St. Martin's Cathedral in Gander by the Arthritis Society's Newfoundland and Labrador Division.

Gander -

It can be hard to stay positive when you find out you have a disorder with no known cure.

That's the case with all forms of arthritis, which involve inflammation of the joints which leads to pain, stiffness, redness and swelling.

Arthritis, however, can be managed, and that was one of the messages stressed last week at a forum hosted at St. Martin's Cathedral in Gander by the Arthritis Society's Newfoundland and Labrador Division.

The event focused specifically on rheumatoid arthritis, which affects joints and muscles and leads to general weakness and fatigue.

St. John's rheumatologist Dr. Sean Hamilton, local physiotherapist Frank Simms and local arthritis exercise instructor Geraldine Primm spoke at the event.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs in one per cent of the population and usually first appears between the ages of 25 and 30. Women are three times as likely to be affected as men.

In addition to joints and muscles, the disorder can also cause lumps, bruising, and in a small proportion of people, it can affect the lungs, eyes and small blood vessels.

Simms, who owns the Lifestyle Physiotherapy clinic in Gander, gave a presentation on active living.

"Arthritis has no cure - once it's there, it's there," he said. "We don't look to cure the situation, because it's not possible, but what we do is provide education to people on how they can manage their condition."

Focusing on acute symptoms such as pain and swelling is a part of that job, Simms said, and people need to learn to manage it when they are on their own.

"A big part of it is staying active and doing appropriate exercises."

Primm runs an aerobics program for people with arthritis at the Joseph R. Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre swimming pool.

According to the Arthritis Society, water activities are beneficial because body weight is supported, and moving through the water adds resistance, which boosts muscle strength and endurance.

Simms said it's important to assure people with arthritis they can live a normal life.

"If you decrease your activity and become sedentary, then yes, you are going to have chronic problems. But if you maintain your activities and lead a healthy, balanced life between rest and exercise, you should do quite fine," he said.

For people with the more common osteoarthritis, Simms said weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees are affected, whereas rheumatoid arthritis can attack multiple joints.

"We see a lot of people with rheumatic problems in their hands and their feet," Simms said. "But it can affect knees, shoulders and elbows as well."

The level of activity a person can handle varies from case to case.

"There's other factors - general conditioning, age, sex. All these factors can determine how active you can or can't be when you have a disease like rheumatoid arthritis," Simms said.

"It's about really trying to find your own threshold as to what you can actually do. It's a situation where you can do too much to set your joints into what people refer to as a flare-up."

In the past, Simms said, people in his profession strictly offered acute treatment.

"If you came in, and your joints were swollen or inflamed, we would provide you with our modality treatments and icepacks to decrease joint inflammation so you could go on with your daily activities. We're more involved now with general exercise prescription and activity education to prevent that from occurring more often."

According to Health Canada, active living means 90 minutes of activity each day.

"It may seem excessive," Simms said, "but activity can mean things like walking up and down the aisle of a grocery store. It doesn't have to mean going to the gym. It can be raking your leaves on the lawn, or parking your car at the far end of a parking lot and walking to the front door. Stuff like that pieces together very quickly in the run of a day."

Organizations: Arthritis Society, Cathedral in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador Division Health Canada

Geographic location: Gander, Martin, St. John's

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