Arthritis is a condition of joints. There are at least 100 kinds of arthritis, but the most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune response, in which your immune system attacks the linings of your joints. Osteoarthritis is wear and tear, so it tends to affect whatever joints get the most use. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect wrists and hands. Medical treatment of arthritis usually has the goal of reducing pain and increasing the quality of your life.
“Increasing the quality of your life” means get you moving. The Mayo Clinic points out, “Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Of course, when stiff and painful joints are already bogging you down, the thought of walking around the block or swimming a few laps might seem overwhelming.”
Arthritis Wins Through Inactivity
If you can reduce pain and increase your range of motion sufficiently to permit healthy activity, you can keep arthritis from winning. The key is to alleviate your pain sufficiently to allow you to exercise. Then exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints and improves bone strength, which allows muscles and bones to take some of the pressure off your joints. This will delay the advance of arthritis and allow you to lead a more normal life.
There are, of course, medications that can help to manage pain — so many that you can hardly avoid seeing their television commercials. But if you want to manage your arthritis without substantially changing your body chemistry, there are other techniques. The Arthritis Foundation suggests acupuncture, balneotherapy (soaking in warm mineral springs), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), knee braces and sleeves, or canes and crutches.
Warming Can Disrupt the Pain Cycle
But the Arthritis Foundation also devotes a whole page of its website to warming techniques, saying, “When you turn up the heat, pain dials down to soothe stiff and painful joints.” And when it comes to warming techniques, I’ve got two words for you: infrared sauna.
A study published in 2009 found infrared sauna useful in treating both rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis (which is arthritis affecting the cartilage in the joints between the vertebrae of the spine — ouch). Seventeen of each type of patient got eight infrared treatments over four weeks, which comes out to twice a week. The researchers found that “pain and stiffness decreased clinically, and improvements were statistically significant” during the infrared sessions. Furthermore, patients on average reported even more pain alleviation after treatments than during. The researchers found no ill effects, and no exacerbation of the condition.
An Infrared Sauna Plan
What this means is that infrared sauna may make you feel well enough to exercise immediately. And, as I noted above, exercise itself can further mitigate your pain. Once you’ve had an infrared sauna session, you then have an interval of comfort in which to do aerobics, join a spin class, or swim some laps.
Here’s a way to put that idea to use. The YMCA of Greater Nashua has two locations. One is 9 minutes’ drive from our site, and the other is 10 minutes’ drive. Both have swimming pools, as well as cycling classes, treadmills, indoor running and walking, dance classes, yoga, pilates, and other activities. Find an activity or class you like, check on the time, and book an infrared sauna session for about an hour before it starts. We’ll get you in and out of the sauna in time for your chosen activity. Trouble with the scheduling? Call us (603-402-4564). We’ll be glad to help.