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Exercise good medicine for arthritis sufferers

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Physical therapist 1st Lt. Justin Theiss helps Maurine Maddox with a hamstring-stretching exercise she can do at home.  Osteoarthritis in her right knee makes it difficult for Maddox to sit and stand.  She began the regimen in January and within four weeks she was 95 percent improved.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Physical therapist 1st Lt. Justin Theiss helps Maurine Maddox with a hamstring-stretching exercise she can do at home. Osteoarthritis in her right knee makes it difficult for Maddox to sit and stand. She began the regimen in January and within four weeks she was 95 percent improved. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFPN) -- Should people with arthritis exercise? The answer to this question is a resounding "yes," according to 1st Lt. Justin Theiss, a physical therapist at the medical center here.

"Studies have shown exercise helps preserve joint mobility and function," Theiss said. "Inactive lifestyles and low fitness levels are two traits characterizing many people with arthritis."

Unfortunately, for someone suffering from an arthritic condition, prolonged inactivity can accelerate the symptoms traditionally associated with the disease. Symptoms include increased muscle atrophy, decreased flexibility, degeneration of joint cartilage and a greater risk of bone fractures due to the loss of bone mass.

The benefits of exercise for those with arthritic conditions are numerous. Theiss said that exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance.

"Exercise can also lead to a better psychological outlook," Theiss said. "Faithful exercisers suffer from less stress, anxiety and depression. They may get better sleep and have an improved sense of self-esteem."

Physical therapists can recommend exercises that are particularly helpful for people suffering from arthritic conditions. The therapist designs a home-exercise program and teaches the client about pain-relief methods, proper body mechanics, joint protection and conserving energy.

Often, therapists prescribe three types of exercise:

Range-of-motion exercises help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness. This helps maintain or increase flexibility.

Strengthening exercises (weight training) help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.

Aerobic or endurance exercises like bicycle riding improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight and improve overall function. Weight control can be important to people who have arthritis because extra weight puts extra pressure on many joints. Some studies show aerobic exercise can reduce inflammation in some joints.

Before starting any exercise program, it is important for people to discuss their options with a doctor or other appropriate health care provider, Theiss said. (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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