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Arthritis at altitude with leafy greens, exercise and ice packs

Eric Dube
Surviving Summit

Arthritis already is, or will be, a reality for many of us.

Whether it’s our knees, back, hands or other joints, arthritis can be painful and debilitating. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis affects over 52 million U.S. adults, which is one out of five people. An arthritis diagnoses can be discouraging, but it’s not necessarily the end of all things active and fun. In order to keep your joints healthy for years of activity, it’s important to understand arthritis and the dynamics of its prevention and treatment.

What is arthritis?

The term “arthritis” can be easily defined by its component parts:

“arth-” meaning “joint,” and

“-itis” indicating “inflammation.”

Together, joint inflammation.

There are several types of arthritis: rheumatoid, psoriatic, gout, lupus and osteoarthritis. Depending on the type, joint inflammation can come from different sources: autoimmune (the body attacks itself), lifestyle, genetics and even diet.

Degenerative joint disease

In this article, we are going to focus on a relatively common form: osteoarthritis. Otherwise known as degenerative joint disease, or DJD, it is one of the most prevalent in our active (and even sedentary) populations. It’s not a condition just reserved for the elder population, either. Pediatrics and young adults can get arthritis, too.

Joints are designed to move. The surfaces of our joints are covered in a specific cartilage, called hyaline cartilage, which is very smooth and relatively firm — a surface ideal to minimize friction. Similar to a Teflon-coated cooking pan, it’s smooth and easy to clean until it’s scratched by another material, like a metal utensil. After that, food always sticks to that spot in the pan since the underlying metal is exposed. There is no way of repairing this damage.

Unfortunately, like your favorite pan, the hyaline cartilage surfaces in our joints do not have the ability to re-grow, either. This means that with injury or wear and tear, our cartilage may eventually become roughened, soft and thinned out.

While the cartilage that lines our joints does not have sensitive nerve endings, the bony surfaces just below the cartilage and the synovium (inner lining of the joint capsule) do. Eventually, the cartilage surface can wear away enough that the sensitive bony surface below is exposed.

When these tissues are irritated from daily life and/or recreation, it causes swelling. Often, additional fluid gets trapped in the joint and creates pressure, which is typically felt as deep aches and stiffness. These symptoms are typically noticed in the morning, after not moving for about eight hours (a typical work day) and in the evening, when the side effects of the day’s activities finally accumulate.

Proactive management

As an inflammatory condition, arthritis can be non-surgically managed on two main fronts: internally (diet) and externally (exercise and activity modification).

Internal

There has been increasing support for the power of an anti-inflammatory diet. The idea is simple: minimize the pro-inflammatory foods and maximize anti-inflammatory ones.

Common pro-inflammatory foods are typically high in sugar, trans fats and gluten. Foods potent with anti-inflammatory properties include those that are high in omega-3 fats, antioxidants and anthocyanins. Examples of these are fish, whole grains, dark leafy greens and rich, colorful vegetables. Turmeric, ginger root and tart cherry juice all contain antioxidants, which also counter inflammation.

The jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin, but, for the low cost, these supplements may be worth trying.

Before shifting your diet, consult with a local dietitian or nutritionist to learn more about the power of a balanced diet. Even further, your doctor may have medication options that are designed to mitigate the pain and inflammation from Osteoarthritis. There are even lubrication and steroid injections that help reduce the pain from swelling and rough joint surfaces.

External

One big goal for managing arthritis is to minimize the physical stress and strain on the joints. Modifying your activity can have a significant influence on joint health.

Where do you start? Choose lower-impact activities like aqua aerobics, walking, swimming and cycling. Sometimes, we can get away with still doing the high-impact sports we love, like skiing and snowboarding, at a lower intensity or frequency.

Additionally, you can reduce joint stress by improving the balanced strength of the muscles around the joint. Restoring joint motion is also very helpful: The more mobility you have, the more forces can be distributed throughout the joints.

PRICE method

A physical therapist can really help you on this front. While managing your arthritis can be a long and potentially agonizing process, a PT can offer tips to help you along the way.

An effective method known as the PRICE concept can help:

Protection: Don’t stress your joints. Bracing and taping are good options.

Rest: Decrease your activity level. Do your activity with less intensity and/or frequency.

Ice: Finish exercise with 10-15 minutes of ice on your joints. A hot-cold cycle might also be helpful.

Compression: Get a compression stalking or garment. This provides circumferential compression.

Elevation: Elevate the affected joints and limbs. Getting above the heart is key.

When it comes to managing arthritis, the proactive and optimistic perspectives always have better results. Making a few simple internal and external lifestyle changes can have a significantly positive impact on your joint health. The medical-management options for arthritis are endless, and the solutions are only getting better.

So, the next time you feel a little crunch in your knees or stiffness in your back, keep in mind: You have all kinds of promising options. Remember, “Motion is lotion,” so get moving!


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