Arthritis : Impact of Arthritis

Anna Lamy, Hernando Today, Brooksville, Fla.

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, striking people of all ages, races and ethnicities.

More than 100 forms of arthritis and related diseases exist affecting approximately 46 million Americans today and is expected to climb to 67 million within 20 years, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF).

Hernando County statistics reflect this as nearly 20 percent of adults say they are limited in movement by arthritis or joint pain, according to information reported to the Florida Department of Health.

The impact of arthritis on the economy is about $128 billion, including over $81 billion in direct costs for expenses like physician visits and surgical interventions, according to AF.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in three adults over age 65 fall each year, many of which have arthritis. People with arthritis often have weakened muscles and therefore reduced balance and stability, which result in a higher risk of falling. Exercising to keep muscles strong even after diagnosis is important to help reduce this risk.

The Hernando County Health Department has partnered with the City of Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department to loan local residents and visitors arthritis self-help resources. 'Walk with Ease' is a program designed to help people take action to ease arthritis symptoms and maintain overall fitness and quality of life.

Ann-Gayl Ellis, MPH, health educator consultant with the Hernando County Health Department, pointed out features of the guides made available to local residents and visitors.

"As explained in the 'Walk With Ease' self help guide, exercise can help reduce anxiety, blood pressure, blood sugars, body fat, bone loss, constipation, depression, falls and fractures, social isolation and stress," said Ann-Gayl. "We are hopeful that some of our local residents and/or visitors will take advantage of this free resource."

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Topics include arthritis basics; choosing the right shoes, socks and clothes; what to do if exercise hurts; a suggested walking progression chart; strengthening and flexibility exercises; self tests; and walking diaries.

John Allocco, BS, MPT, owner of Action Potential, LLC, a rehabilitation and sports medicine facility located in Spring Hill discussed the importance of physical therapy and the benefits of maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

"Physical therapy is beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, a therapist is able to evaluate the patient to check the body for areas of weakness, which may be contributing to joint pain," said Allocco. "Secondly, therapists are able to determine the patient's body mechanics, specific to how a person stands, sits, squats, as well as how the person performs exercise."

Having proper posture and setting the height of equipment are important to prevent injury and overly fatiguing the joints such as knees, shoulders and back, he added.

Considered a disease, arthritis, if left untreated, can steal a person's quality of life. Contrary to popular belief the disease is not inevitable with age and can be treated, improving daily life, according to AF.

Osteoarthritis (OA), also called osteoarthrosis or degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. OA is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint's cartilage. The breakdown of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease, mainly characterized by inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints. It can lead to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability.

Synovium is a membrane lining the joint capsule and secretes synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint and nourishes the cartilage, according to the Mayo Clinc.

The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis, signs and symptoms may include pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and decreased range of motion.

Treatments vary, depending on the type of arthritis. The main goals of arthritis treatments are to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

"Everyone does not fit into a cookie cutter mold," Allocco said.

Treatments are varied to address the specific issues each individual is experiencing, he added.

"Walking is a good exercise. However, some individuals cannot take the pounding on the joints, therefore alternate therapies such as swimming pool exercises are less stressful to joints, but allows the person to maintain mobility," Allocco said.

People experiencing minor aches and pains from arthritis may find relief in topical ointments and/or common over-the-counter medications such as Acetaminophen.

Either over-the-counter or prescription strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are often used by people who have been diagnosed with arthritis. Narcotic pain relievers are prescribed occasionally for severe pain, but they don't relieve joint inflammation.

Many of the habits that are recommended for a healthy lifestyle play a role in reducing some types of arthritis and related conditions.

Maintaining a healthy weight, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health and strength will help lessen pain.

Eating healthy foods, getting adequate rest and practicing personal safety will also help.

"Joint nutrition comes from the synovial fluid, therefore movement in the joints is necessary for normal joint health," John said. "Joints can degenerate faster due to a lack of cartilage nutrition, which can be directly attributed to a lack of movement or years of inactivity."

'Walk with Ease' is written and published by the Arthritis Foundation, this self guided program provides many strategies to help keep those who have arthritis walking and overcoming challenges that can interfere with an exercise program.

For more information on the 'Walk with Ease' resources available for loan, contact the Health Department at (352) 540-6817.

Courtesy of the Hernando County Health Department.

Although a serious and sometimes debilitating health condition, arthritis can be treated or possibly prevented. Some common tips for prevention include:

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to help maintain your recommended weight. Women who are overweight have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees.

Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin and mineral supplements. Having insufficient levels of vitamin D decreases the amount of calcium your body can absorb. That coupled with lower calcium levels as you age can help contribute to osteoporosis.

Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption to help avoid osteoporosis. Both habits weaken the structure of bone, which puts you at higher risk for fractures.

Discuss hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your primary care provider if you are postmenopausal. Many women lose bone mass during the pre- and postmenopausal years when their ovaries stop producing estrogen. One of estrogen's functions is to help keep calcium in the bones and maintain bone mass. Lowered estrogen level is a major cause of osteoporosis in women after menopause.

Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles around joints and help increase bone density. Exercise may reduce wear and tear on your joints, which can help prevent injury and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. Increased bone density also can help stave off osteoporosis.

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