Health Team

Exercise can relieve arthritis pain

Posted March 4, 2010 2:15 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2010 6:24 p.m. EST

— Exercise might be the best prescription for people with arthritis, new research at a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill center suggests.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability, and osteoarthritis is its most common form. In the condition, cartilage that cushions joints, such as the knees, degenerates.

"Because of the pain, I wasn't able to do a whole lot of movement," said 48-year-old Angela Carmon, who has osteoarthritis.

Carmon took medication to relief the pain and inflammation. The pain caused Carmon to become inactive, which didn't help her body.

"My body was basically just shutting down on me," she said. "I didn't know or couldn't understand as to why that was, because the more I felt the pain, the less I wanted to move."

Two years ago, she joined a study with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Thurston Arthritis Research Center. The study compared the results of individual and group exercise.

The study found that "movement is the best medicine and that people with arthritis should be physically active and doing walking, aerobic – moderate, moderate intensity," said Dr. Leigh Callahan, with the Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

Researchers recommend exercising three to five days a week, 30 minutes a day. Exercise can even be spread throughout the day.

It's important that even elderly arthritis patients or those with disabilities get as much moderate exercise as possible. That will also help take off weight, which makes it harder on the joints. Guided exercise programs are the best way to start, so patients can avoid over-doing it and learn how to prevent injury.

The UNC study combined stretching, walking and strength training. Over eight weeks, both study groups had similar positive results.

"Actually has helped over time to decrease the amount of pain to which," Carmon said. "I'm able to move with a lot more ease. I've actually been able to come off of the medication."

The old advice about exercise – "that it would exacerbate their disease and make people worse" – is wrong, Callahan said. Instead, the federal Centers for Disease Control, Arthritis Foundation and arthritis researchers want to get a new message out to arthritis patients.

"Actually, it makes people feel much better," Callahan said.

"The more I move, the more it seems I want to move," Carmon said.