Causing swelling and pain in the joints, arthritis leads to substantial activity limitation, work disability, reduced quality of life, and increased healthcare costs, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States with nearly 19 million Americans reporting activity limitations. Experts indicate this figure will balloon to 67 million by 2030. An estimated half a billion people – 10 percent of the world population – experiences some form of impairment or disability, and as the population of the U.S. and other nations increases, it is expected that the incidence of age-related disabilities including arthritis will also increase. Careful monitoring of the condition can help to improve treatment outcomes, and gaining an understanding of the condition and taking precautions to care for one’s joints before arthritis develops may make it possible to mitigate its effects or delay its onset.
Arthritis is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage that normally protects the joints of the body, and is typically seen in individuals 65 and older. The inflammation of one or more joints most commonly associated with arthritis frequently worsens with age. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are among the most common. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints and is seen almost exclusively in older individuals, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and may be seen in younger individuals as well. Regardless of type, arthritis causes pain, inflammation, and swelling, and restricts movement. Standard treatments focus on relieving symptoms and improving joint function, and may include medications, physical therapy and exercise regimes, lifestyle changes, and surgery if the condition does not improve through the use of more conservative measures.
Steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to relieve some of the pain and irritation associated with arthritis, and experts are working to identify new medications that may prove beneficial. While medications do provide relief for some individuals, moderate exercise has been found to be highly beneficial to individuals with arthritis. Certain exercises and stretching techniques have been observed to markedly improve the range of motion and strength of muscles surrounding joints in individuals with arthritis. Despite the benefits of moderate exercise to reduce pain and ease stiff joints, a recent study found that many individuals with arthritis do not get the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity, low-impact activity per week which could improve their condition.
By ensuring that individuals with arthritis and pre-arthritic individuals understand the importance of stretching and exercise, it may be possible to lessen the severity of the condition. In addition to strengthening the joints, these activities can lead to weight loss and improve overall health.