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By John Roix
Athletic Trainer Timberlane Regional High School
Rehabilitation Health Network

Arthritis is
the most widespread, disabling disease in the United States, affecting one in
seven Americans. The term itself
can be used to describe over 100 degenerative diseases that damage the joints. The initial symptoms common to all types of arthritis include
pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints, however each different disease
attacks the body in different ways. The
most common form of arthritis, affecting over 25 million people is
osteoarthritis. This disease breaks
down the joints cartilage, which cushions the hard tissue, causing pain
during normal wear on the joint. Each
person suffering from this disease is affected in varying joints with varying
severity, although the most common areas are the lower body, weight-bearing
joints, as well as, the hands.

cause of osteoarthritis is yet to be determined, as researchers continue to
study how genetics and the physical demands life applies affect the disease. The causes of some of the other forms of arthritis have been determined,
bacterial infection being one of the causes, and therefore can usually be
treated if caught early into the infection.

There are so
many different types of arthritis that treatment programs need to vary to
accommodate each individual and the particular type. 
The initial symptoms will also usually lead to further complications from
inactivity.  Persons suffering from
one of the diseases usually attempts to avoid activity in order to prevent a
further increase in symptoms.  The
result is the beginning of a vicious pain cycle that for the majority needs to
be broken through the application of exercise. The cycle begins with the arthritis attacking the joints, which leads to
pain, stiffness, and swelling, which leads to decreased use of the joint. 
Those actions lead to decreased strength, flexibility, and circulation,
which lead to more pain.  Many
believe that by avoiding exercise they are avoiding that which will increase
their already devastating symptoms.  Unfortunately
they do not realize that exercise, when applied appropriately under a
physicians care, can actually lead to decrease their symptoms.

Exercise is
important to keep the body in good physical condition to allow easier
performance of daily living activities (ADLs). When it is eliminated these ADLs become more difficult to perform, and in
the case of persons suffering from a type of arthritis they can sometimes become
impossible. Specific exercises for
persons with arthritis can be applied to break the pain cycle. Exercise will help increase circulation around the joints, which will in
turn flush out the joint while bringing in new fluids to lubricate it. They also help preventing atrophy, which is the shrinking of muscle
tissue due to inactivity. Keeping
the muscles strong will enable them to protect the injured joints, while
insuring a better ability to perform ADLs. In addition, they will help to improve cardiovascular function, which
help to prevent other diseases.

The exercise
programs set up specifically for people who suffer from arthritis can be adapted
for each individual, so to target their particular problem. Their doctor should be able to design a program for them or
let them know where they can go to have one set up for them.