Arthritis Prevention On Off the Course

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Although commonly thought of as a disease that affects the elderly, arthritis can affect anyone regardless of race, age, or sex. According to the Arthritis Foundation and the CDC, arthritis is one of the most common causes of disability in the United States. It is also projected that there will be a 50% increase in arthritis over the next 25 years as Baby Boomers age. Although there are many types of arthritis, the most common is osteoarthritis arthritis. This type of arthritis is known for the wear and tear on the cartilage and joint surfaces. There are many ways to help manage arthritis including exercise and educational classes, as well as medications that may be prescribed by your physician.
 
Many resources are spent on managing arthritis once a person is diagnosed, however, for this article I have taken a different approach. We will look at managing arthritis from the standpoint of preventing or delaying the effects that may alter your golf game.
 
There are four main factors influencing the likelihood of getting arthritis. Those four factors include age, genetics, weight, and injury/overuse of a joint. Two of the four factors cannot be changed. There is no Fountain of Youth, and we cannot yet change our genetic makeup. However, the other two factors, which in my opinion are the two most important factors, can be affected by small changes in daily life. Lets examine how each one of us can decrease the likelihood of getting arthritis.
 
The effect that weight has on our joints is often underestimated. Each extra pound that we carry has a multiple-fold effect on our joints, especially the knees. Maintaining an appropriate weight for your body type is essential for healthy joints. I often see patients in my office who are stuck in the conundrum of needing to exercise to lose weight, but not knowing how to exercise without further hurting or injuring their knees. These patients do well with a combination of specifically designed aquatic exercise classes for arthritis or weight loss as well as exercise programs designed to protect joints. There are many online resources as well professionals such as your Physician, Physical Therapists, Nutritionists, Personal Trainers, and other specialists who can help design a program for exercise and nutrition to minimize obesity as a risk factor for arthritis.
 
The second risk factor that can be controlled or at least managed is injuries or overuse of joints. There is information and evidence that suggests that arthritis is due to, at least in part, to poor early joint care and misuse. To further understand this concept, lets look a little deeper into how a joint functions. For the sake of ease, we will use the example of the knee.
 
When we think of the movements of the knee, we picture the lower leg kicking forward (knee extension) or bending backward (knee flexion). To accomplish this extension and flexion, the joint surfaces inside the knee, which are covered in a protective cartilage, roll, spin and glide on one another. There is always a little extra movement at the end of the motion to act as a protective cushion. When there is an injury to the knee, say a sprain in which there is swelling and bruising, some of that extra cushion can be lost. Without that extra cushion, which is termed joint play, the joint cannot smoothly roll, spin or glide to create the full movement of extension or flexion. This places extra stress on the other parts of the joint surfaces during the movement. Over time, this leads to wear and tear on those joints, i.e., arthritis. This is a very simplified version of one way arthritis can occur, however, if this example is applied to other injuries or joints, especially those that occur repeatedly, it is easy to see how joint cartilage can be worn down prematurely.
 
Physical Therapists are specially trained to assess how much quantity and quality of movement there is in each joint. There are hands-on techniques that they can perform on each joint to improve the quality and quantity of movement to avoid placing extra stress on the joint and cartilage. This will, therefore, potentially decrease the risk for arthritis in that joint. A joint will respond better to these techniques early in the healing stage, however, there is potential for improvement even years after an injury. If you suspect that you have had such an injury, whether it is at the knee joint as in the example above, in the shoulder, neck, low back, or virtually any other joint, please see your physician for a prescription to a Physical Therapist who can perform a thorough joint evaluation. Early joint care will ensure that you are playing golf pain-free long into retirement!
 

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