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Get active to ease osteoarthritis

If you have osteoarthritis, take a walk—or a swim or a bike ride. In fact, a variety of aerobic exercises will help to relieve pain, improve flexibility and maybe even decrease the need for painkillers.

That’s good news for more than 20 million Americans1 who suffer from osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease that most often affects the hands, spine, knees and hips.

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage (tissue that connects bones at joints) wears, frays, ulcerates and, in some cases, disappears completely, leaving bare joints. Symptoms include morning stiffness, tenderness, loss of mobility and function, and creaking and cracking of joints, referred to as crepitus.

Although the causes of osteoarthritis are unknown, age, genetics and a lifetime of wear and tear are thought to be culprits. Although no cure exists, much can be done to ease aches and improve movement.

If you have osteoarthritis, you already know how painful it can be just to tie a shoelace or bend down. It is possible to feel better by improving your diet, adding the right medications and supplements and starting an exercise program.

You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to benefit from exercise. Most people begin by putting on a good pair of sneakers and heading outdoors. Walking is one of the simplest, safest and cheapest ways to alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Take your time. Start slowly and increase your speed and distance to keep the exercise challenging, without being grueling. Try to make a schedule and stick to it.

If walking becomes boring, try swimming. This is another excellent choice, whether you do pool laps or take up aquatic exercise—stretching, walking and other workouts done in water. Thanks to water’s buoyancy, it’s easy to move around in a pool. Hydrotherapy is also wonderfully soothing to sore and tired joints.

Another form of exercise to consider is bike riding, which will help to strengthen thighs and reduce the risk of knee injuries. If you’re not up to riding on busy city streets, consider buying a stationary bike for your home or joining a health club. Spinning® classes have become popular and may just be the ticket to pedaling away your chronic pain.

Of course, it’s always important to check with your doctor before you start exercising and to keep your physician informed of your progress.

If you have advanced osteoarthritis, consider working with a physical therapist. That person can show you proper exercise techniques to avoid further injury. Occupational therapists can also help you remain as mobile and independent as possible.

1According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.