Once you find the motivation, movement can actually decrease your pain.
The CDC reports that some 15 million Americans suffer from severe joint pain related to osteoarthritis – and half of them report that this pain occurs almost every day. That’s a staggering number of people who may be putting off activities and sports they enjoy either due to feeling drained by the symptoms of their condition, or because they fear exercise might actually make their sore shoulder, elbow, back or knee worse.
Many people suffer chronic joint pain without having a specific structural problem or injury. Oftentimes, this pain happens because the muscles around the joints are too weak and aren’t able to adequately absorb physical stress during activity. The result is extra pressure and strain on the joints, which may be already experiencing a wearing of cartilage or “cushioning” between the moving parts of the joint.
Don’t be afraid to move! Exercising improves muscle strength and shock absorption, as well as the functioning of the fast twitch muscles (for sudden, powerful movements) and slow twitch muscles (for sustained energy to last a long time) needed for anaerobic strength and aerobic muscle endurance, respectively. Plenty of research supports moderate physical function as a prescription for pain from osteoarthritis without making the condition worse – provided you have had no new injuries like a fall.
In addition to muscle conditioning, moderate exercise helps to stimulate the flow of fluid that provides nutrients and proteins that keep the remaining cartilage healthy. Exercise can also strengthen the tendons, which help support the muscles, as long as cross training is done to not overwork or overstrain one muscle or tendon grouping.
My advice? Get moving as often as you can. It may be tough to start out, especially if your pain is wearing you down mentally as well as physically but let the high likelihood that you will feel better motivate you. Start slow and look for a balance of strength and endurance exercises, while mixing in your favorite aerobic activity – even if that means briskly walking around the block. Bring a resistance band along and stop at your local park or ballfield for some planks and monster walks.
You may be surprised to discover that your pain lessens or seems not as distracting as you get stronger and more fit. But if the pain persists, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who can perform an in-depth assessment of your condition and even order some imaging to get to the bottom of the pain. They will be able to work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan to get through the rough spots as you embark on your new active and healthier life.
Dr. Michael Schwartz is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in treatment of the shoulder, elbow and knee. He sees patients in White Plains and New Rochelle. Please call 914-849-7897 to make an appointment.