How to Keep Your Joints Healthy
August 11, 2022
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to pain, swelling, stiffness and other problems. It typically starts between ages 40 and 60, but children and young adults can get it, too. It is twice as common for women as it is for men.
You may find this surprising, but moving actually helps to relieve the discomfort and stiffness related to RA.
“Regular exercise can improve endurance, muscle strength, activity of daily living and mobility,” says Pooja Kumari, MD, a rheumatologist at TMC. “Isometric exercises are preferred for joints with active inflammation, followed by isotonic exercises.” These exercises can include muscle strengthening and flexibility exercises, as well as low-impact aerobic exercises like brisk walking, biking or swimming.
For some patients, high-intensity exercises like running and jogging have also been shown to improve mood. Before starting any exercise program, talk with your doctor.
“Unfortunately, exercise alone cannot treat RA,” Dr. Kumari explains. “Medications may be prescribed to ease arthritis pain and inflammation and slow disease activity. Additionally, anti-inflammatory diets, which include foods rich in antioxidants such as fish and vegetables, may be recommended.”
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Diagnosing RA can be difficult, as the onset and symptoms may be different for different people. It can affect any joint in the body, especially the wrists and fingers. For some people, symptoms may be mild and come and go; other people may experience severe symptoms. It may affect other organs including the eyes, mouth and lungs. RA can also increase risk of heart disease leading to illness and even death.
Smoking increases the risk of RA, particularly severe deforming RA, as well as diseases that cause scarring of the lungs. If left untreated, RA can lead to severe deformities of joints as well as other organ involvement, so early recognition and treatment is essential.
“Fortunately, we have great medications to treat RA, delivered in such different ways as pills, injections and IV infusion,” says Dr. Kumari. “These medications help to calm the patient’s immune system. All medications have side effects, so they all require close blood monitoring and follow-up with a rheumatologist.”
For people with significant functional limitations, joint replacement surgery may be an option. Regardless, the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms, reduce long-term complications and promote overall wellbeing so people with RA can enjoy happy, active lives.