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Arthritis Basics

Arthritis afflicts half of Americans age 65 and older, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Arthritis causes deterioration within the joints that serve as cushion between bones. The cartilage covering the end of the bone breaks down, resulting in difficulty moving the joint.

Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Arthritis, as a result, disables more Americans than heart disease and stroke, according to government statistics.

"A healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity can help prevent and treat the symptoms of arthritis, including limited movement," said Peggy Fleming, Olympic figure skating champion and HealthSaver spokesperson.

Although age quickens the development of arthritis, nearly two-thirds of people with the disease are actually younger than 65. The continual use of joints, which exercise provides, can therefore keep joints strong and sustain proper movement between bones.

"Arthritis doesn't have to put your life on hold," said Brad Eggleston, vice president of HealthSaver. "To keep your arthritis under control, follow these health tips to be proactive with both treatment and prevention."


  • Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, affects the joints in your neck, hands and those that bear weight, including knees and hips.
  • Time and age cause gradual wear and tear of the tissue between bones, resulting in a grating sensation as the bones begin to meet. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by being overweight and putting too much stress on joints.
  • When the movement of affected joints causes bones to rub together, everyday actions such as walking can become difficult. Not using these joints, however, will aggravate the arthritis. So keeping the afflicted areas active will help relieve pain.
  • The U.S. Department of Health reports that, for older adults suffering from osteoarthritis in the knee, physical activity three times a week can nearly cut arthritis-related disability in half. A study by Tufts University showed similar results with strength training, which appeared to be just as effective as medications, perhaps even more.

Rheumatoid arthritis
  • The immune system is designed to protect the body, but for those with Rheumatoid arthritis, the defense system mistakenly releases enzymes that then attack healthy tissue. Women are three times more likely to have Rheumatoid arthritis, which most often strikes adults older than 60.
  • In reaction to the immune system's damage, the joints swell and weaken the muscles, tendons and ligaments that surround it. This causes pain, stiffness and restricted movement, as well as fever and fatigue.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect the same spot in both sides of the body, most often the fingers and wrist joints. In severe cases, the nervous system and internal organs can also be affected.
  • People with Rheumatoid arthritis should take advantage of the disease's remission periods, which serve as opportune times to exercise. When Rheumatoid arthritis is active, rest will help reduce the joints' inflammation.


  • Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. It develops when a byproduct of the diet, uric acid, is deposited into the joint. Build-up within the space between bones leads to sudden, intense pain.
  • Men are more likely to have Gout, which attacks most often at night when joints are inactive. Hypertension, kidney disease and excessive alcohol intake also increase the risk of Gout, which frequently affects lower parts of the body, including toes, ankles and knees.

Keep Moving
  • Exercise is key to controlling arthritis symptoms, because movement strengthens the muscles that protect your joints. Low-impact exercises, such as walking and golf, are optimum. To avoid abrupt movements, aquatic exercises can provide a more gentle resistance for your muscles.
  • Include strength training in your exercise regimen to further relieve joint stiffness. As muscle strength improves, the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability suggests increasing repetitions rather than weight.
  • Stretching should be a part of any exercise routine, especially for arthritis sufferers who seek flexibility and a wider range of motion. Slow, smooth stretches will sustain the elasticity of bones' connecting tissue.

Regular Doctor Visits
  • If a joint suddenly swells and you start to run a fever, see your doctor immediately. You should also see your healthcare provider if you experience joint tenderness, warmth and stiffness for more than two weeks.
  • Treatment of arthritis can be more effective with an early diagnosis, so regular doctor visits are especially important. A 2008 U.S. Department of Health study shows that, if caught early, arthritis pain may be avoided. The National Institutes of Health also reports that if treated early, joint damage may be prevented.
  • Your physician can monitor your progress to provide appropriate treatment, which may include blood tests, x-rays and an examination of joint fluid.
  • Doctors will most often prescribe aspirin for arthritis, though ibuprofen also serves to reduce inflammation. Surgery to rebuild or replace the joint is usually only performed if lifestyle changes and treatment render unsuccessful.
  • Two-thirds of Americans diagnosed with arthritis are overweight, according to government statistics. Excess weight increases the risk of arthritis because it adds stress to joints. Among women, a weight loss of 11 pounds reduced the risk of osteoarthritis in the knee by 50 percent.

Arthritis, as a disabling disease, not only affects your health, but also your way of life. Living with arthritis therefore means keeping your joints active and your general health in shape.

To monitor your progress and adjust treatment as needed, visit your doctor on a regular basis. This will help you control your arthritis and continue your way of life with minimal limitations.

HealthSaver, an emerging health care discount program, offers savings on prescriptions, vision care, complementary and alternative health care treatments, vitamins and supplements by mail and more than 1,500 fitness clubs nationwide, including select Bally Total Fitness, World Gym and Ladies Workout Express locations.

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