Last month I wrote about arthritic pain (literally “joint inflammation”) and how to best manage it. The value of walking was emphasized, as was the importance of finding a treatment expert that understands how to fix both the pain and the problem using an active, functional approach. You can review this information here.
This month, I will continue on this topic by discussing the second most important exercise for arthritic pain, natural ways to deal with inflammation, what to avoid for joint health, and a surprising way to ensure joint health.
The Second Most Important Exercise for Arthritis Pain
Walking is definitely the most important exercise to enhance joint health, but a close second is functional strengthening. Arthritis of the spine, the most common site of arthritis, is usually the result of weakness and instability of muscles which control the joints. This is true for many areas of arthritis including the knee and shoulder.
A couple of decades ago, stretching for arthritic pain was a big fad. However, recent research on arthritis of the lower back, neck, knee, and hip demonstrates that strengthening exercises are the most effective at reducing joint pain and instability. Because we function on our feet between gravity and the ground, functional strengthening using positions we commonly assume throughout the day (i.e. not laying on your back or stomach) are essential to both feel and function better.
So, if you are seeking a quality provider to help you fix your arthritic pain, ask them when you first schedule if they focus on strengthening/stability exercises, as well as a functional approach.
Natural Ways to Deal with Inflammation
We experience pain from arthritis due to the presence of inflammation. Inflammation is the first phase of the healing process. The body’s immune system recognizes the tissue damage that is occurring, and it reacts with an inflammatory response to block of the damage, absorb the dead cells, and prepare the body to lay down new tissue.
The pain exists, though, because the inflammation causes a physical pressure on nerves that signal pain to the brain. Unfortunately, many of the clients we serve are stuck in an inflammatory response, which prevents the body from advancing through the stages of healing. This occurs because the root of the problem has not been addressed, so I’ll reiterate that it is important to seek help from an expert that understands how one body part influences another (something we refer to as the kinetic chain), because it is likely that the primary problem is originating from another area, which results in a shifting of physical stress on the area that is experiencing inflammation and pain.
In addition to this, there are three other ways to naturally deal with inflammation:
- Manage your emotions
Psychological stress causes a hormonal response, and the body releases cortisol, a chemical that increases inflammation in the body. Spend time in meditation and prayer. Find ways to talk to others in a healthy way about what you’re experiencing. Seek counseling if necessary. Remind yourself that this pain is normally temporary; don’t live life in fear. If you manage your emotions well, you will reduce inflammation and pain.
- Get more, better sleep
Sleep patterns affect how the body responds to damage. Getting adequate sleep is essential. Recent research indicates that losing sleep for even part of one night can trigger the key cellular pathway that produces tissue-damaging inflammation.
- Establish good nutrition habits
Flours, sugars (i.e. simple carbohydrates), and fatty red meats increase inflammation, as do any foods to which you have a sensitivity. These foods also result in the release of cortisol, which increases inflammation. A colorful diet, on the other hand, will give you antioxidants that dampen the inflammatory effect, and lean proteins are also beneficial.
If you want to learn more about how our diet impacts our health, consider the following:
- The Maker’s Diet (Jordan Rubin)
- Eat to Live (Joel Fuhrman, M.D.)
- You Can Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (Caldwell B. Essylsten, Jr., M.D.)
- The China Study (T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D)
What to Avoid for Joint Health
This may be the most controversial section, because it runs so counter to our typical Western response to pain, but medications, injections, and surgery often cause long-term damage. This is especially true when they are given when not needed.
Here is why:
- Medications, especially muscle relaxants, pain killers, and anti-inflammatories, block the minds ability to perceive pain. Certainly medication has its place. As a nation, we frequently overuse and block the pain signal. Unfortunately, this approach prevents us from addressing the real, root cause of the pain, which leads to more joint damage.
- Injections, especially cortisone and epidurals. When physical therapy fails, then there is a place for injections. But when given before PT, and especially in a series of more than one, injections decrease joint health.
- Surgery, specifically spinal fusions, lead to stoppage of joint movement. This essentially kills and fuses the joint. It frequently leads to arthritis and pain in the joints above and below the previous surgery.
A Surprising Way to Ensure Joint Health
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw, he refers to a little coal mining town in the Poconos where arthritis and heart disease were extremely rare in the town. What was the cause of this?
Genetics? No way! Most were Italian…
Occupation? No again…
Researchers and doctors concluded the reason for the almost non-existent rates of arthritis was because of the excellent family and neighbor relations most townspeople had. The community was tight knit. It was known as a super friendly place with good relationships.
Better relationships = less stress = better mental state = healthier joints and bodies. If you have read the more recent book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, this will not surprise you.
The answer to joint health and arthritis is not a simple one, but it is clear that our typical approach has not been an effective way to restore health. Physical pain is the result of more than just physical stress. Our solutions need to be holistic, involving the body, mind, and spirit.
At Kinetic Edge, we are fruitful and fulfilled when we help people transform their lives and restore their hope. We understand the physical and holistic approach necessary to help restore health, happiness and hope. That is why we continue to beat this drum.
We are excited that so many people are taking us up on our offer to receive a free injury screen, so we have done it again. We have set aside ten 20-minute slots in each clinic in the month of January specifically for our readers who want a quick, complimentary, no-strings-attached assessment of their arthritic pain. Call today to secure one of these spots. They will go quickly.