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ASA's Healthcare and Aging Network is discussing chronic diseases and their management, beginning with a thoughtful overview of arthritis
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What Is Arthritis and How Is It Treated?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of adults ages 65 years or older reported receiving an arthritis diagnosis (source). Although arthritis means joint inflammation, the word is often used as an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases or conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, gout and many others. Arthritis warning signs include joint pain, stiffness, swelling and aching, and these aren’t minor aches and pains. Arthritis is a serious, chronic condition affecting 50 million adults. It is also the nation’s most common cause of disability (source).
Arthritis has robbed millions of people of their ability to perform vital activities such as walking, climbing stairs and participating in social activities (source). A staggering one-third of those with arthritis are limited in their ability to work (source). The number of people with arthritis is expected to increase to 67 million by the year 2030 (source) if something isn’t done to reverse the trend.
Arthritis is often considered an older person’s disease, but it is not a normal part of the aging process. While it becomes more common with age, arthritis affects people of all ages—even children and young adults. Surprisingly, two-thirds of those diagnosed with arthritis are younger than 65 (source).
Additionally, all races and ethnic groups are impacted by arthritis; according to recent data, 36 million whites, 4.6 million blacks, 2.9 million Hispanics, 280,000 American Indians-Alaska Natives, 667,000 Asian-Pacific Islanders, and 469,000 multiracial-others have been diagnosed with a form of arthritis (source). And, almost half of the adults with arthritis have additional conditions, too, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension (source). Arthritis can be the reason why it is difficult to be physically active, a mainstay in the treatment to improve many of these comorbid diseases.
It wasn’t very long ago that people with arthritis were told by their healthcare providers to rest and refrain from engaging in physical activity. In contrast, today’s treatment plans often include physical activity, joint protection, use of hot or cold packs, and physical or occupational therapy. Physical activity is one of the best treatment options for arthritis.
People with arthritis can safely engage in a variety of physical activities. Despite the common misperception that exercise causes arthritis, physical activity can actually help most people prevent the onset of the disease. Physical activity is highly recommended for adults with arthritis because it can decrease pain, delay the onset of disability, and improve physical functioning, mood, and independence. It also enhances quality of life, aerobic capacity, and muscle strength. Even though moving is the best medicine, far too few adults with arthritis are physically active. Among those with arthritis, almost half report engaging in no leisure time physical activity (source).
There are a variety of evidence-based physical programs available specifically for people with arthritis to help them become physically active. Arthritis Foundation Programs for Better Living are led by certified instructors and are proven to help those affected by arthritis by reducing pain and increasing strength and flexibility. The CDC also recommends a number of additional programs (more info) that are available to help people with arthritis. For more information about programs in your area, contact your local Arthritis Foundation office.
Because few strategies exist that promote and address barriers to physical activity for adults with arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation recently released the report, Environmental and Policy Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Adults with Arthritis. The report aims to help improve the lives of people with arthritis by making physical activity more convenient and accessible for them. It serves as a call to action to focus more attention on helping people live well with arthritis and be a productive part of our society.
Mary B. Waterman, MPH, is Director, Public Health, at the Arthritis Foundation National Office in Washington, D.C.
This article was brought to you by the editorial board of ASA’s Healthcare and Aging Network (HAN).
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