Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Get Moving!

We need to get moving.

If someone offered you a remedy for your arthritis– something that would reduce pain and swelling, strengthen your bones and the muscles surrounding your joints, and would reduce fatigue, would you take it? Incidentally, it would also keep heart disease and depression at bay. It would even help you lose weight. Did I mention that it’s completely natural, and there are no negative side effects? And – bonus - it’s free! Would you take it? Okay – I might be looking behind the proponent of this remedy for the hidden medicine man decked out in tribal garb, too. But if there was a spark of truth in there, you bet I’d try it.

Here’s the good news: it does exist. It’s called physical activity. And study after study has proven it works. It’s worked for me.

In a summary report of the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the Surgeon General found that, for people with arthritis, “Regular physical activity can help control joint swelling and pain.”

What’s more, the Arthritis Foundation refers to physical activity as “Arthritis Pain Reliever”. The Foundation offers programs in exercise, aquatics, tai chi, and walking. These programs have proven to have a positive impact on thousands of people affected by arthritis by improving flexibility, range of motion, and muscle strength.

Perhaps most compelling is a study by Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, written by Susan Bartlett, Ph.D. (see Dr. Bartlett’s findings are in agreement with those of the CDC and Arthritis Foundation, but explain in greater depth how exercise affects the body.

According to Dr. Bartlett’s article, “Regular activity replenishes lubrication to the cartilage of the joint and reduces stiffness and pain.” She also discusses the reduction of anxiety and stress in patients that exercise over sedentary patients, and indicates that preliminary studies prove moderate-intensity lifestyle exercise (like walking) are as effective as rigorous activity in improving mood.

I promise you, I have tried this, and it works. As always, check with your doctor first (as did I) – and then lace up your sneakers and get moving! You (and that medicine man over there) won’t regret it.

Small Victories

On a recent visit with my rheumatologist, it was decided that I will, after nearly five years, finally begin to wean off of Prednisone.

Before my appropriateness filter kicked in, I actually cheered out loud. It couldn’t be helped.

Prednisone can be wonderful – it was the first drug that helped ease my fatigue; the first drug that began minimizing some of the pain. But it’s also largely to blame for the unattractive widening of my face – a physical attribute that I am painfully conscious of. Stomach pain (and for some, ulcers), osteopenia, increased dental cavities, shrinking breasts, increased appetite – like many of you, I’ve suffered through the not-so-much-fun side effects of this drug in order to reap its benefits. So you can imagine my joy when I heard that in one month, I’ll be done.

Oddly, though, there is also a small amount of fear, too. I wonder if I will have the same energy levels when I am no longer taking Prednisone. I wonder if I will experience more flares, or if certain joints, like my knees, will once again be painful and stiff. I wonder if I will still be… me.

For now, I will celebrate this change. My condition must be stabilizing – even improving – if my doctor feels I am ready to face the world without Prednisone. That fact alone gives me the motivation to persevere; to overcome the minor setbacks that may lie ahead.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meet My Trainer

This is Alberto. He’s my personal trainer. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Alberto reminds me that he is not my friend. He invents new and creative ways to torture me. And every day, I’m thankful for it.

There was a time when I could not bend my knees. Imagine. I couldn’t put away cookware that went in the lower level cabinets - couldn’t pick up a piece of paper dropped on the floor, or bend to take a picture of my beautiful children. As my RA meds began to work (and Lord knows, there are many), my ability to use my joints again improved dramatically. Still, before I began training with Alberto, I could not do a free-standing squat. And now? I can do a one-legged squat. I can do weighted lunges. I can step up onto a bench that’s two feet off the ground. I may moan and groan – especially during the last set. But every day I thank God that I can do these things. I will never take it for granted. I know what it’s like when you can’t.

I sought Alberto as a trainer because a friend trained with him, and cut her clothing size in half. I learned that he was a physical therapist by profession, and that he specialized in sports rehab. I wondered if he would be able to transform me the way he did her – despite my RA.

Well, I’m still no supermodel – and probably never will be. But I can kick a bag at chest level 96 times without collapsing. I can do step-lunge combinations. I can put away all the pots and pans, pick up a piece of paper from the floor, and take pictures of my kids. I can even train to run a 5K. So thanks, Alberto. Because even though some people may not see what’s special about this, I consider it a miracle.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let's Move Together!

The Arthritis Foundation’s Central Florida Region will kick off Arthritis Awareness Month by holding the 2nd Annual Let’s Move Together Walk on May 1 in Avalon Park. ( This important event serves not only as a major fundraiser; it reminds us of the importance of movement for people with arthritis.

For me, exercise, including a regular walking regimen, has been a tremendously effective tool for managing pain, reducing flares, and elevating energy levels. When I was first diagnosed with RA, I would have found anyone who advised me to get moving crazy. It hurt just to stand, none-the-less walk. Pain notwithstanding, I was so tired that I couldn’t imagine mustering the energy for a jaunt around the neighborhood. Instead, I wallowed. And the more sedentary I was the stiffer and more painful my joints became. The sudden halt in activity prompted a near 20 pound weight gain. According to WebMD, an extra pound of body weight adds four pounds of joint stress across the knees. Babying my joints wasn’t reducing my pain – it was increasing it.

Sometimes the least likely option is truly the best choice. I started by taking short walks outdoors, and over time, increased my distance and pace, until I was walking five miles each day in just over an hour’s time. I started feeling well enough to venture into the world of strength training. I started feeling well enough to return to my life, as I knew it, before RA.

Exercise is not a panacea or cure for arthritis, but it is a valuable tool in managing the effects of arthritis. That’s something I can live with. Now let’s move…together!