Physical activity should be encouraged to counter arthritis, report says

Staying active can help reduce pain, delay disability and reduce the risk of developing co-morbidities associated with the disease.

By — Posted May 29, 2012

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Staying physically active is key to helping patients with arthritis reduce painful symptoms, but not enough people are aware of the benefits, says the Arthritis Foundation.

A report released by the foundation May 16 advises physicians and other health professionals to ask arthritis patients about their level of physical activity at every visit. In fact, it recommends that health care systems require such conversations take place.

“This is not part of the regular dialogue that occurs between a physician and their patient,” said Arthritis Foundation President and CEO John Klippel, MD. “It’s important that health professionals embrace this report and, hopefully, become part of a movement that we hope to start in this country to help reduce the burden of arthritis.”

The recommendation is one of several in the report, which emphasizes the importance of exercise for arthritis patients (link).

Beyond health professionals, the report discusses how parks and recreation agencies, business and industry, public health, transportation and mass media can help make it more convenient and accessible for patients to be physically active.

Arthritis, the most common reason for disability in the country, encompasses more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and tissues. About 50 million U.S. adults have arthritis. The impact of the condition is expected to increase significantly with the aging baby boomer population, Dr. Klippel said.

Helping patients overcome barriers

Starting physical activity can be difficult for people with arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends adults start with walking. They should engage in moderate activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes a week or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous activity — or an equivalent combination, Dr. Klippel said.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, it was actually believed that physical activity was bad for arthritis patients,” he said. “There has been a real paradigm shift in the approach to physical exercise and activity.”

In addition to reducing pain, physical activity can help patients slow progression of arthritis and delay the onset of disability, the report said.

Doctors and other health professionals should talk with patients about their pain, fears of worsening symptoms and other physical problems they believe limit their physical activity, and help them find solutions. Physicians also are advised to direct patients to fitness classes and other community resources.

“In their work with individual patients, health care providers have a unique opportunity to encourage adults, children and families to increase their daily physical activity,” the report said.

The report is a follow-up to “A National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis,” which was released in 2010 by the Arthritis Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link).

The 2010 report emphasized the need for four interventions to address the disease: physical activity; self-management; education injury prevention; and weight assessment and healthy nutrition. Dr. Klippel said the Arthritis Foundation will release reports on the remaining three interventions.

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