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Walking and Arthritis

During 2011 and 2012 I experienced firsthand people’s struggles with arthritis. Before becoming the Arthritis Society of Canada's National Trekking Trainer I didn't have more than a cursory experience with the crippling disease. As the lead trainer for the Arthritis Societies trekking program I was responsible to get people in shape to trek while raising money for their Joints in Motion program. Training participates for trekking is very similar to marathon training, which I did for years for the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training program. However, there was one big difference. With Team in Training the participants didn’t have a disability directly related to walking. While not a majority, a significant portion of participants in the Joints in Motion program were inflicted with arthritis. This created unique challenges, but everyone worked as a team and we were very successful.

Sadly, 27 million American adults suffer from a form of arthritis. There are three major forms of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This is actually a catch phrase for many forms of joint related disease where the cartilage is worn or broken down. The degenerative disorder causes pain in the joints of the hips, knees (symptomatically most common), hands (radiologically most common), and spine. While the exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, factors such as age, obesity, overuse, genetics, and muscle weakness all may play a part. There is no known cure.

Treatment of osteoarthritis includes significantly varied forms of medications that range from: analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, cortecosteroids and others. Specific recommendations should of course come from your physicians. Surgery is also an possibility with joint replacements and bone fusion being major options. Interestingly, we now have a regular attendance at our walking clinics from individuals with joint replacement.  Joint replacements are not necessarily a lifetime cure. Depending on your age and activity level they can wear out. While some experts, like at Livestrong.com, recommend resuming running for experienced runners with hip replacements, we would not. Why add the increased stress and risk a second hip replacement surgery? Instead, walk athletically and gain all of the advantages of an exercise program while reducing the risks.

For patients suffering from osteoarthritis there are also many lifestyle changes that may improve your condition. If you are overweight, you should sensibly reduce weight slowly to your ideal level. This is best achieved with a combination of a better nutritional plan and an increase in exercise. Of course, before starting a walking program, please consult a physician. Lowering your caloric intake, decreasing fats in your diet, decreasing simple sugars, and increasing the fiber in your diet is key. However, decreasing and improving the quality of calories alone is not sufficient. The body’s metabolism will slow down if you do not increase your activity. Walking is the best way to do this. Walking in walker is also very helpful for those suffering with Osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic disorder affecting multiple joints with inflammation and can also affect the body’s organs. Like Osteoarthritis there is no cure and the causes are still questioned. It’s an autoimmune response that attacks the synovium causing fluid in the joints that leads to significant pain and the joints to become deformed from damage to your tendons, cartilage and ligaments. Treatments include drugs to reduce the symptoms as well as to halt the progress of the disease. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis must be careful when starting an exercise program. Exercise may help by, but you should consult a physician before starting. We had a few participants on our treks that were battling rheumatoid arthritis. Some had issues walking downhill, others uphill. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect everyone differently. However, it does affect people symmetrically. So if a joint on one side of the body is affected, then the corresponding joint on the other side of the body is also usually affected.

References

http://www.livestrong.com/article/240964-how-to-run-after-a-hip-replacement/
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/DS01122
http://www.arthritis.org/

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