If you were to walk up to someone suffering with severe joint pain and tell them they need to exercise, you’d probably get told off at best and socked on the jaw at worst. However, what you told them is exactly correct: people with signs and symptoms of joint pain or disease need to maintain an exercise program. It’s totally counterintuitive, but it’s the truth – exercising sore joints actually decreases pain.
Joint Pain and Diseases
The most common source of joint pain in children, youth, and young adults is injury. An acute injury, such as a sprain or a break, requires immediate care and involves a recovery period. Soft tissue injuries, such as tendon or muscle tears, usually heal without lingering effects, but bone breaks can result in early onset osteoarthritis, especially if the break occurs in a joint, such as the wrist, elbow, or knee. However, being young is not a guarantee against arthritis; juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis in children, with 70,000 – 100,000 diagnosed cases in the United States.
Overstressing a joint during intermittent athletic activity results in bursitis in the joint, or tendonitis in the tendons around the joint. Bursitis and tendonitis can become chronic conditions if the stress is repeated, and if down time for the joint or tendon to heal is inadequate.
Osteoarthritis is the most common signs and symptoms of joint pain in adults, with the onset usually around the forties. Osteoarthritis can occur earlier, but is typically considered an age-related condition; the joints begin to suffer wear and tear damage as the person moves into middle age.
Moving as little as possible seems like a really good idea to someone who’s in constant pain. The movements of daily living are arduous to people with joint pain, and they won’t be receptive to the idea of adding a regular exercise program to their daily routine. But, being sedentary is actually bad for painful joints; not exercising the muscles, tendons, and ligaments holding joints in place allows them to become weak and loose. This, in turn, creates more pain for the joints, as they try to function without proper support. So, a vicious circle is set in motion: person with painful joints doesn’t exercise and supports for the painful joints atrophy, causing more pain, which results in even less movement. The end of this cycle is total disability.
Exercise and Joint Pain
For years, the conventional medical opinion was exercise exacerbated joint pain and accelerated the joint damage. Times have changed, and mainstream medicine has now concluded being sedentary is the wrong way to cope with joint disease. As described above, not exercising results in more pain, whereas exercising regularly results in decreased pain.
The current treatment protocol for joint pain and disease is regular exercise. However, you need to consult with your doctor or therapist before starting a regimen; you need to exercise in ways geared to your condition. Going to the gym and hopping on the Nautilus circuit is probably not a great idea; find the best way to get aerobic exercise without adding stress to your aching joints – swimming or water aerobics are good programs to start with. Develop a strength routine using minimum weights, and choose a flexibility routine to gently stretch your muscles. Yoga is not a good idea if you have fibromyalgia, but Tai Chi may work out great. If you have osteoarthritis, yoga may be your cup of tea to gently stretch. The point is, find exercises you can do and you enjoy. This gives you the best chance of incorporating exercise into your daily life; no one will keep up with a program that increases pain or that they hate.
Most of us hate exercising – that’s the painful truth. It takes discipline to make regular exercise a habit, and it’s even harder when pain gets added to the mix. However, if you have severe joint pain or any of the signs and symptoms of joint pain or disease, regular exercise moves from being something you might do to something you must do if you want to remain active. Giving in to the joint pain eventually results in disability – something most of us do not want to have. Exercise as much as you can, and live a full life because of it.