Arthritis is often misunderstood, in part because there are several different types, each with different causes.
Arthritis is not a single disease — it is actually a way of referring to more than 100 different types of joint pain or disease. It is the leading cause of disability for Americans.
The most common type, osteoarthritis, causes the cartilage that protects the joints — typically in the fingers and weight-bearing joints like knees and hips — to break down over time. This deterioration is typically caused by a prior injury or wear and tear from rigorous activities like athletics, but often it’s simply part of the aging process.
That deterioration results in inflammation that can be painful and debilitating. The primary symptom is joint pain and stiffness. And while it can’t be cured, that pain can often be managed without requiring surgery.
“Many people believe arthritis is something they just have to live with. That is not the case,” says Dr. David Prybyla, a Full Circle Approach to Joint Replacement board-certified orthopedist and Medical Director of Lowell General Hospital’s Joint Replacement Program. “While there are medicines to manage inflammation and aches, one of the best ways to manage arthritic joint pain is through low impact exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.”
Lowell General Hospital’s Center for Community Health and Wellness offers two types of slow movement exercise classes to help people develop and maintain flexibility.
Tai Chi Chi Kung is ideal for people with limited space and time. The class involves is a series of 13 movements done in a circular pattern in five directions.
YangTaoSM Tai Chi is a unique blend of two popular tai chi forms. By synchronizing slow flowing movements, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm, mindful state-of-mind, this class can help you reduce stress and expand range of motion.
For those whose arthritis affects their ability to move or impacts their quality of life, joint replacement may be necessary.
“While joint replacement surgery is certainly an option for the most severe cases, surgery should always be a last resort,” says Prybyla. “Regular exercise will not only maintain flexibility in stiff joints, it will strengthen the muscles around the joint and prevent instability which can lead to further damage.”