JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2017 showed that one in four U.S. adults have arthritis and 27 percent of them experience severe joint pain.
The study also indicated that about one-third of Americans suffering from arthritis do not engage in any physical activity despite the fact that regular exercise can result in great benefits for them.
Arthritis Awareness Month, which is observed in May, is a time to motivate people, especially those with arthritis, to become more physically active.
“According to CDC research, being physically active is the best thing that someone with arthritis can do,” said Dr. Jason Wheeler, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Physical Therapy Flight physical therapist. “The CDC reported that those who were more physically active felt better than those who did not engage in any kind of physical activity.”
Physical therapists encourage their patients to adopt an exercise program as a means of alleviating their symptoms, Wheeler said.
“I tell the members of our military population that it’s all a matter of finding the right mode of exercise, whether it’s biking, swimming, walking or gym workouts,” he said. “As an example, if a patient is suffering from knee pain, swimming or being on a bike may be better than walking or being on a treadmill. It’s a person-to-person thing; it’s not ‘one size fits all.’”
Arthritis is a common diagnosis at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Medical Clinic, Wheeler said.
“Arthritis is caused by abnormal stresses on the joints; if it’s not some sort of trauma, it’s usually the result of poor movement quality or bad posture over time,” he said. “An analogy I use is that when a car’s alignment is off, eventually something will break down and that wear and tear can be similar to how we end up with arthritis.”
According to the CDC, arthritis – inflammation or swelling of one or more joints – describes more than 100 conditions that affect the joints, tissues around the joint and other connective tissues, and results in symptoms that include joint pain and stiffness.
Forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, the most common form, a degenerative joint disease that occurs most frequently in the hands, hips and knees; rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that mainly attacks the joints, especially the hands, wrists and knees; and gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis that usually affects one joint at a time, often the big toe joint.
Arthritis could be considered a normal finding in the presence of a movement dysfunction or prolonged poor posture, Wheeler said.
“As physical therapists, we find out what people are doing,” he said. “We have to identify the cause of the arthritis.”
Treatment comes in the form of manual therapy, exercise, re-education on posture and altering body mechanics, Wheeler said.
“Physical therapy involves a lot of commitment from the patient,” he said. “It takes teamwork between the clinic and the patient. They have to use the tools we give them.”
Outside the physical therapy facility, a long-term exercise program is essential.
“There is a range of how people rate their pain,” Wheeler said. “People who are more physically active are more pain-managed.”
Inactivity is a particular concern for people with desk jobs, but Wheeler offered advice for them.
“People who work at desks typically suffer from neck and low back pain, but there are desk posture exercises they should do,” he said. “They should also stand up and do something every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid a prolonged position.”