By Richard P. Holm MD
If you don't use it, you'll lose it. I bet I've heard and repeated this age-old aphorism a million times. But can it be overused?
The adage certainly fits when trying to improve the wellness of many medical systems: working the brain with puzzles and conversation helps ward off memory loss; walking fast enough to cause one to huff and puff keeps the heart and lungs strong; regular sexual activity helps prevent impotence; and filling the gut with a high fiber diet keeps the bowels in shape and makes you a regular sort-a-guy.
But what can you do when it hurts to move those old joints? Should you rest a joint with degenerative osteoarthritis or should it be exercised? Experts say it depends on the state of the arthritis. If it is a hot and inflamed joint, it's better to first address it with expert advice, medication, and time, and not to force a lot of movement until later when it is cooled down. If, however, it is the cool-yet-stiff type of arthritis, then that’s a different story.
I always go back to a well done study in which they observed a large number of older people with very bad osteoarthritic knees—the kind that the orthopedic surgeon would call “bone on bone”. Scientists divided them into two groups: the first group was left to their sedentary habits; the second group was pushed to regularly walk, stretch, and move on those worn out knees. So who do you think did better? You guessed it, the exercise group reported to have less pain, was better able to stay mobile, and were rated as being generally happier than the control group. A physician friend once advised me: “Motion is the lotion for keeping those stiff joints moving.”
The American College of Rheumatology gives us the following recommendations:
· Though some of the joint changes of osteoarthritis are irreversible, most patients will not need joint replacement surgery
· Symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary greatly among those affected
· Exercise should be an important part of what we do to decrease joint pain and increase function
So, say it again to yourself every morning while looking at the person in that mirror: "Use it or lose it."