Welcome to another post in our series on Health & Aging. I’m Dr. Pool – not a medical doctor mind you, more of a pool physician.
Today’s topic centers around one of life’s chronic illnesses which afflicts millions of people worldwide, and can be helped with water exercise.
I’m speaking of arthritis and other forms of rheumatic disease.
Arthritis is estimated to be a problem for 67% of the population within the next 15 years. Even though there is no confirmed cure, there are ways to combat symptoms and treat arthritis. Water exercise is a good arthritis treatment to reduce pain & swelling.
Today’s lecture on Arthritis & Swimming will cover three main areas:
- Causes, Types and Symptoms of Arthritis
- Treatment of Arthritis
- Swimming with Arthritis
Causes, Types and Symptoms
Arthritis is the pain and stiffness in one’s body that is caused by swelling in the joints. Arthritis can even affect or cause problems in the eye or skin. Swollen joints can suffer severe damage, and with growth of the population, it is estimated that by 2030, 67% will suffer from arthritis. Arthritis generally affects elderly individuals; however there are forms of arthritis that can affect others at an early age.
Most types of arthritis can be caused from several factors combined –
- Person’s genetic makeup
- Physically demanding job; especially with repetitive movement
- Previous Injury
- Autoimmune diseases
- Obesity (causes more strain to be placed on joints)
- Certain foods can cause symptoms of arthritis
Additionally, some infections or allergic reactions can cause short term arthritis, but when an infection causes arthritis, it is known as “reactive arthritis”. Arthritis can come with simple ‘wear and tear’ of the joints as well.
Symptoms vary based on the type of arthritis. For instance, Osteoarthritis symptoms develop over a slower period of time and get worse. Joints will be stiff including first thing in the morning. Use of the joint becomes more difficult as it loses flexibility. There may be a grating sensation when the joint is used, and the joint can swell with inflammation. The most affected areas that are affected include the hips, hands, knees and spine.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include painfully swollen joints – the fingers, legs, arms and wrists are most commonly affected. Symptoms are the worst when waking up; the stiffness lasts for 30 minutes or more. Many who have rheumatoid arthritis feel tired often; fatigued. Weight loss can occur as activity is reduced. Arthritis pain sometimes will spread from small joints in the hands, wrists, ankles and feet to the elbows, knees, hips, neck, shoulders or jaw.
Infectious arthritis can show itself with a fever, joint inflammation and swelling. There is sharp pain or tenderness felt, and many times this can be linked to a preexisting injury or illness. Usually, just one joint is affected, and it can be from the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist or finger.
Another form of arthritis is Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, so named because it afflicts children. Symptoms include intermittent fevers that peak in the evening and disappear. Appetite is poor and because of this patients often lose weight. Like adult arthritis, JA sufferers may experience joint pain and swelling.
Treatment of Arthritis
What are some ways to treat arthritis? Physical therapy and occupational therapy will help maintain some of the joint mobility and range of motion for an individual, but the kind of therapy required depends on a number of factors such as the patient’s age, the type of arthritis, etc. It should be discussed with a [rea] physician or physical therapist / occupational therapist.
In some cases, physical therapy not only reduces the pain, but can also delay the need to have surgical intervention. Occupational therapy teaches one to reduce the strain on joints throughout daily life. Occupational therapists can help you alter and modify your work and home so movements you make will not irritate arthritis or add to the pain.
Occupational therapy can also teach you how to rest. Rest is necessary for treating pain, even when multiple joints are affected or you feel tired. Resting individual joints can be helpful as well – splints can be customized for better resting and more support for joints.
Finally, physical activity is important for improving the symptoms of arthritis. Inactivity could be harmful for most patients that suffer from arthritis, and can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Muscles will get weaker without exercise, and joints will get stiffer. Those who are physically active and have arthritis generally will enjoy better health than those who suffer from arthritis and are not getting regular exercise.
Swimming With Arthritis
If it hurts too much to walk or to utilize other physical activity, it can often be helpful to exercise in a warm swimming pool. Because of the buoyancy, water will take the weight off of the joints and allows you to recondition. Pool exercise is actually more effective than regular walking, when it comes to arthritis pain.
Arthritis pain and stiffness can be relieved from the soothing warmth and buoyancy of pool water, and water aerobics provides a gentle way to exercise muscles and joints. Just being in warm water allows your blood vessels to dilate and increase circulation due to the raise in body temperature. Additionally, the water acts as a resistance, which builds up the muscle strength.
Spas or hot tubs can be used as well, at a temp of 90-100°, to relax tight muscles. Small radius motion joint exercises, and stretching exercises can be safely done from a sitting position.
Because water has 12 times the amount of resistance that air provides, movement in the water helps increase bone density and strengthen the muscles as well as improve coordination and balance. It is also recommended that daily exercise be changed to avoid joint strain from repetitive exercise motions.
Swimming is very effective for those with Arthritis, helping to keep your joints limber. Warm water exercise is recommended often by doctors, as it provides an aerobic workout in a low impact environment, without stress on aching joints.
Get your swim on, America!
"What Is Arthritis? What Causes Arthritis?" Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 24 Nov. 2013. Web.
Roizen, Michael. "Why Can Exercising in a Swimming Pool Help Heal Arthritis?" - Arthritis Treatment. Share Care, n.d. Web.
Miller, Christine. "Swimming and Water Exercise: Great for Rheumatoid Arthritis." Health Central. N.p., 19 Feb. 2008. Web.
Ochs, Carol. "Is Swimming the Best Exercise for Arthritis?" LIVESTRONG.COM. 21 Oct. 2013. Web.