The number one cause of disability claims in the U.S. is arthritis. Millions of Americans are affected by some form of arthritis. Chances are if you’ve been active at some point in your life you will develop some form of arthritic joint discomfort. What can be done to combat the pain and discomfort brought on by arthritis in order to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle? The answer may be what you’d least expect… Strength and flexibility training!
Each joint in the body has several muscle attachments and origins associated with it. These muscles use the joint as a leverage point to move the body around. The joints are under constant tension from these muscles and this can sometimes cause excessive wear and inflammation. We know that muscles can only do two things, contract (shorten), and stretch (lengthen). When we train the muscles under load by lifting weights or using the body’s own weight as resistance, we test the muscles ability to contract. When we train the muscles by stretching, we are testing the muscles capacity to lengthen. Both of these movement tolerances have a huge effect on the health of the joints and while we can’t train the joints themselves we can train the muscles around the joints to better support and allow free movement of the joint.
Let’s focus on a specific example. A client with chronic knee discomfort due to Osteoarthritis begins a training regimen which includes cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training elements.
We work to strengthen the quadriceps muscles of the thigh to support and absorb impact on the knee joint during daily activity. We would place the muscle under a weight load using either a weight machine or the weight of the body and try to fatigue that muscle over a specific repetition range to achieve the desired change in the muscle tissue. We can train the muscle to grow, strengthen, or build endurance depending on the repetition volume and load we choose. We can also train the quadriceps to allow more lengthening to reduce the pull and tug on the soft tissues of the knee joint. Think of a very tough cut of meat. What methods would we use to make that cut of meat more tender? The answer would be heat and pressure. Many arthritis programs utilize a warm water pool to relax muscles and reduce inflammation of joints by applying heat. Warming the muscles up and keeping them warm during exercise is essential. Pressure can come in many forms. We can stretch the muscles out gently like pizza dough, or we can apply a more direct pressure like a foam roller or the skilled hands of a Massage Therapist. Both of these methods function to loosen and “tenderize” the muscles to make it more receptive to lengthening.
I would encourage anyone, whether you dealing with arthritis pain or not, to incorporate these fundamentals into your training regimen. I firmly believe that strength and flexibility are not opposing forces. They can work together to build a full complement of fitness. Try these strategies and see how it works for you. Or if you still have questions or perhaps need a little more insight or motivation, speak to one of our talented personal trainers or massage therapists about how they can help you battle your pain. Don’t live in pain. Take control of your routine and change your life for the better!
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