Arthritis and What to Do about It: Recommendations from CDC

By Aldrich, Nancy | Aging Today, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Arthritis and What to Do about It: Recommendations from CDC


Aldrich, Nancy, Aging Today


This is the second of two articles.

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation-swelling, redness, heat and pain caused by tissue injury or disease in the joint. More than a 100 types of arthritis and rheumatic conditions have been catalogued, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosus, bursitis, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. These diseases can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints, as well as in muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Some forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also affect other parts of the body, including internal organs.

Causes vary by type of arthritis and include autoimmunity factors (rheumatoid arthritis and lupus), tissue degeneration (osteoarthritis), repetitive motion (carpal tunnel syndrome), inflammation (bursitis or tendinitis), metabolic problems (gout) and trauma. In addition, the causes of many types of arthritis are unknown.

RISK FACTORS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), risk factors for arthritis may include genetic makeup, hormone levels or lifestyle-related factors, such as weight. People who are overweight are more likely to get osteoarthritis; women are also at higher risk. The prevalence of arthritis among elders of color is not significantly greater than it is for whites, but these groups generally have a higher rate of disability associated with arthritis.

In addition to their day-to-day activities, people with arthritis should get at least 30 minutes of conditioning activity at least three days a week. If necessary, this exercise can be done in 10-minute increments three times a day.

In its publication Questions and Answers About Arthritis and Exercise, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends that people with arthritis should first check with their doctor, then slowly begin a physical activity program. Physical activity should involve stretching and warming up, range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises with small weights (one or two pounds), and the gradual addition of aerobic exercise, the institute says. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends avoiding rapid or repetitive movements of affected joints and adapting physical activity to the needs of the individual.

Walking, hiking and swimming are good activities for people with arthritis, but any physical activity helps. The important point is that people find a form a physical activity that works for them, CDC scientists emphasize.

According to CDC, people with arthritis often have pain that is not entirely relieved by medication, so they are some of the biggest consumers of complementary and alternative medicine. However, not much research has been done on whether alternative medicine works and whether it is safe. Also of concern is that people may use alternatives instead of doing something that is more effective, cautioned Joe Sniezek, chief of CDC's Arthritis Program.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises that research does not support the claims of some popular remedies, such as snake venom, copper bracelets and DMSO (the solvent dimethylsulfoxide used for pain relief). NIH is conducting research on whether glucosamine-chroridroitin helps osteoarthritis-preliminary results from European studies indicate that such supplements may help arthritis. …

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