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Dr. Andrew Spitzfaden, St. Luke's Hospital

Women can ease effects of arthritis with proper exercise programs

We all know that remaining active through exercise is an important part of improving or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is even more important for those affected with one of the various forms of arthritis , which is a condition where inflammation affects one or more joints resulting in pain, swelling and stiffness.

Studies have shown that a proper exercise program involving low impact activity can ease the effects of arthritis . A proper exercise routine can build muscle around affected joints, limit bone loss, minimize joint swelling and protect cartilage, which is often broken down as a result of arthritis . Other benefits include decreased anxiety and improved emotional well-being.

Despite all the benefits associated with exercise, a recent study suggests women with arthritis are not getting the amount they need. The study was published in the "Arthritis & Rheumatism" journal and followed a group of 1,000 people with arthritis . Researchers found only eight percent of women (compared to 13 percent of men) met federal guidelines of 2.5 hours of moderate, low-impact activity per week.

The findings highlight some of the perceived roadblocks those with arthritis face. First, those with different forms of arthritis are already at risk for being overweight. This creates other complications and may discourage those suffering from arthritis to begin an exercise routine to help alleviate some of their joint pain.

In addition, those with joint discomfort due to arthritis may hesitate to start an exercise program because they believe any activity may worsen their symptoms. This indeed may be true in cases where pain levels are extreme, but for milder joint aches, a proper exercise program should strengthen the body and provide noticeable relief of arthritic symptoms.

If you suffer from arthritis , make sure you are physically and emotionally ready to begin an exercise routine. Your physician should evaluate and diagnose the cause of your joint pain and provide a personalized exercise plan that will help decrease your pain, inflammation and stiffness.

Dr. Andrew Spitzfaden specializes in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-576-7013 or visit his Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 3, 2011.