Posted by: Oscar Abraham in Health,Tai Chi on January 9th, 2011
Tai chi can reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue. (Eric O’Connell, Getty Images)

Don’t let arthritis slow you down

Adopting a few lifestyle changes can slow, or stop, joint damage.

THE DOCTORS • January 9, 2011

For the first time in 40 years, the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is on the rise, researchers at the Mayo Clinic say. An estimated 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with it. RA is a form of arthritis that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the membrane lining your joints (often in the hands, wrists and feet), causing pain, swelling and stiffness. No one really knows what causes RA or how to cure it. Most people with the disease take a combination of medications. But just as pivotal in the treatment of RA are lifestyle changes you can make to also help reduce pain and slow, or even stop, joint damage. Here are a few simple strategies (some of which may surprise you):

Do 20 minutes of cardio daily. It may be last on your priority list when your joints hurt, but it’s actually one of the best things you can do to preserve mobility. A new study published in Arthritis Care & Research shows that with a little aerobic exercise every day, you’ll reduce pain, move more and live better. Just keep the pace moderate, take breaks when you need it, and stop if you feel any new joint pain. Walking, water aerobics and even biking are good choices.

Cut calories. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to 30% of overweight and obese Americans have arthritis. Extra weight puts extra strain on joints, which puts you in extra pain. Though some research suggests consuming fish oils may reduce joint inflammation, it’s most important to focus your diet on a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, protein and calcium — and count calories to keep the scale in check.

Try tai chi. This ancient Chinese form of meditative therapy reduces pain, stiffness and fatigue, and it improves balance in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, according to preliminary research presented at this year’s American College of Rheumatology annual meeting. Tai chi combines slow, gentle movements and stretches with deep breathing and relaxation to build strength and flexibility. To find a class, contact your local YMCA, health club or senior center.

Reconnect with your spouse. You’ll feel less pain and enjoy a better quality of life if you’re in a happy marriage, according to new research. Previous studies have found that married people with RA show less disability than unmarried patients. But the new study showed the strength of the relationship actually makes the difference. Researchers talked to 255 adults with RA, and found that those in supportive marriages had less physical and psychological disability. For those in distressed relationships, study authors suggest improving communication and coping skills through couples therapy might boost health for the RA patient.

From USA Today Weekend Jan 9, 2011.

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3 Responses to “Don’t let arthritis slow you down”

  1. Lisa says:

    Saying to people that a few lifestyle changes can stop the joint damage of RA is like telling someone with a broken arm that adding fiber to their diet will heal them. Not true and not fair to those of us like me that have to take some very scary drugs to try to keep this horrible disease controlled. The two main medicines I take for RA are Methotrexate, a low dose chemotherapy drug, and Humira, a biological drug that has a very long list of side effects that include congestive heart failure, some types of cancer, and possible fatal infections. Does this sound like an illness that can be treated with ‘a few lifestyle changes’? Don’t you think if all I needed to do was 20 min of cardio, cut my calories, and take a tai chi class to stop the horrors of this disease I’d do it? Don’t you think that if stopping joint damage and deformity was that easy my doctor would have mentioned it? This article is a classic example of how unaware people are about this disease. By publishing these kinds of articles you down play the seriousness of this disease which does not help those of us that have to live it. People that have been newly diagnosed may think all they need to do is what was suggested by this article instead of using modern medicine and that delay in treatment can have a long reaching affect and a poor prognosis.
    RA is a systemic auto immune disease that not only affects joints but also can affect eyes, lungs, heart, mouth, kidneys, liver, blood vessels, nerves and skin. The only proven treatment that slow or stops joint damage is with DMARDs (disease modifying anti rheumatic drugs).

  2. I agree with Lisa in the main thrust of her argument. RA is a serious life disrupting disease. Delaying medical treatment is not recommended. That said, sitting in a funk is not useful and staying positive does have its own benefits. People respond differently to different treatments. Get the maximum out of life and do whatever you can to keep moving. Start moving early in the disease stage to get the maximum benefits.


  3. Lisa says:

    You are right Oscar, about not sitting in a funk and being positive. There was a lot of better ways to write that article. I have a pool in my garage heated to 94 and now that my RA is controlled I am slowly getting back my physical strength. But before that I sometimes couldn’t stand let alone get in a pool so cardio is fine but NOT POSSIBLE during a bad flare. I have severe aggressive sero positive RA and in the spirit of RA awareness I have included my story of what it’s like to have a bad RA flare. My disease hit hard and fast and although I started a biologic drug within 3 months of onset RA had crippled me within two months and already done permanent damage to my ankles. This can be a devastating disease and it occurs in people of all ages, even children. Thanks for letting me post this :)

    When a knee flare first starts it feels like I’m out of joint slightly, there is mild pain and some pressure. Then as it progresses the pain becomes constant and it’s as if my knee is broken, it won’t bend correctly, there is lots of pressure in the wrong directions, it feels like it’s constantly being twisted the wrong way. Then when the flare is full on it feels like my knee is being sawed through very slowly, the saw never finishing the job but just going back and forth ripping out bits of me. Now add my other knee, an ankle, a few toes, both elbows, a shoulder, in around my collar bone, a hip, both wrists, both thumbs and most of my fingers. All these parts of me being attacked by an invisible saw. Now add my vocal cords (yes RA can affect the voice) so even as I cry out because I can’t move and the pain is so bad and I need help my voice fails so I just wait, minutes seem like hours, until my husband, Bob, checks on me again. I take more pain pills but they can’t touch this pain and I’m already over the maximum dose. I desperately want to blow my nose because I’ve been crying but I can’t move my arms so Bob has to hold a tissue up for me and it’s clumsy and I get goo all over my face and I just want to die. I’m thirsty but I’m afraid if I drink I’ll have to use the bathroom so I don’t. I feel that if I could just shift my body slightly on the bed I would feel a little relief but even though I know it won’t work my mind torments me, sure that if I could just lie a little more on one side I would feel less pain. Finally I try to move, just to roll onto my side but I can’t and finally I give up. I wake up Bob and he moves me and props pillows but just a few seconds on my side and my shoulder makes me start screaming in pain. Bob puts me back and I try to stay quiet because I know how badly he is feeling for me and how tired he is and it is still several hours to go before dawn comes and we can leave to the doctor. My nose itches but I can’t scratch it. The feeling of helplessness becomes so overwhelming I start to weep and Bob has to come to the rescue because I start choking on my own tears. He props me up more and talks to me quietly until I calm down. I make him promise me that if the new drug doesn’t work he will let me go. He gets upset and tells me the drug will work but I have to know that he won’t hold me here if my body stays this way and nothing works. Then I laugh and tell him that there’s not much to worry about when I can’t even blow my own nose.

    So thats it. Several hours later I was given a shot of Depo Medrol which is a steroid and also put on a 20mg maintenance dose of another steroid, prednisone. The dangerous side effects of these drugs were out weighed by the damage that RA was doing to me. By that night I could roll onto my side and get off the toilet by myself and by the next morning I went back to work. I realized then that everything that had ever seemed hard or unfair paled in comparison to a bad RA flare. People that don’t have RA say it causes stiffness and pain. Those words seem awfully benign to what really happens. The stiffness is incredible, it’s like something wraps you in invisible packing tape during the night. It’s not just morning stiffness either, for me it was like a heavy fog, lifting slightly in the middle of the day only to roll in again by late afternoon. And the pain…I didn’t know they made pain like that. The words ‘Rheumatoid Arthritis’ should put the same fear of God into people like the word ‘Cancer’ does, but it doesn’t. People hear Rheumatoid Arthritis and they think it’s like having the ache and stiffness you get when you worked out too long doing something your body wasn’t used to. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

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