Moving Well to Manage Arthritis

Arthritis, exercise, and overload

By Dr. James McAfee, PT, DPT

Currently affecting around one in four US adults, arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of conditions involving joint inflammation. While arthritis symptoms (e.g. pain, stiffness, swelling) can often be a barrier to exercise, regular physical activity and progressive loading are highly effective ways to manage the symptoms and progression of arthritis, as well as to promote overall health.

Benefits of load and exercise

The body responds specifically to the loads applied to it. Whether the load is mechanical, cardiovascular, or cognitive, the body’s response depends on its capacity to meet the demands of the load.

Overload (the load’s demand exceeding the body’s capacity) is often a condition necessary to produce lasting improvements in strength or endurance. When performed with appropriate intention, parameters, and progression, exercise serves as self-directed overload that creates these conditions for long-term change. Importantly, overload also requires adequate recovery and nutrition to ensure a positive adaptation.

Joints are chemically sensitive environments that respond particularly well to exercise and load. Movement serves as a mechanical pump for joints to remove waste products and bring in new nutrients. This is especially useful in arthritic joints, where joint range of motion and overall activity level are often limited.

How a physical therapist can help

Physical therapists help people manage joint-related pain by leveraging the therapeutic effects of movement. Through personalized education, hands-on treatment, and exercise, physical therapists help individual joints and entire humans move their best.

About the author and The Arthritis Foundation

Dr. James McAfee, PT, DPT is a physical therapist with MovementX in Seattle, helping to create a world healed by movement. He is a lead instructor for AgeProof Your Body, an online exercise community for individuals 60-plus hoping to move and live their best across the lifespan.

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