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How to manage arthritis during COVID-19


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – To limit the global spread of COVID-19 and to “flatten the curve”, the advice to stay at home has presented one particular group with a unique set of challenges.

That group is people with arthritic diseases, especially those with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects twenty percent of Americans and eighty percent of people older than age 55.

Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to tell us more about this condition and the best way to manage the symptoms during a COVID-19 era.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is known as “wear and tear arthritis” vs. rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease.

• Joints are places in the body where bones meet. Joints are different shapes, sizes, and allow you to move. They roll, glide, rotate, and bend.

• All joints are susceptible to wear and tear, damage, and arthritis — particular joints in the hand, hip and knee.

• Protect joints to maximize their use, mobility, function, and longevity.

Osteoarthritis and COVID-19

OA is the most common degenerative disease of the joint and impairs quality of life and leads to significant disability.

• Inflammation, biomechanics changes, and immune response play an important role in causing the disease.

• Osteoarthritis patients often show a large array of other underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases which are shared with COVID-19 patients and may therefore increase COVID-19 complications.

• OA patients living in severe pain and disability had been unable to have joint replacement surgeries because it was considered an “elective surgery” and they were also unable to receive pain-relieving joint injection treatments when visits to doctors’ offices were limited to medical emergencies.

Who’s at Risk for Osteoarthritis

• Over at 50

• Post-menopausal women

• History of joint injury (e.g., athletes)

• Obesity

Management of OA During the COVID-19 Era

The most recent (2019) guidelines per the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation for management of hand, hip, and knee osteoarthritis (especially those who are overweight or obese) is exercise and weight loss.

• Since the only hope of managing OA symptoms is exercise and weight management, recommendations for core treatment are to exercise as often as possible — regardless of age, other conditions, pain severity or disability.

• However, the closure of gyms, swimming pools and parks, and limited use of open spaces to promote social distancing means that OA patients must keep moving and exercise at home (or close to home) and eat a healthy diet.

Tips to Minimize Joint Deterioration (Habits for Healthy Joints)

1. Build muscle. Very strong joints need muscles. They surround joints and support, stabilize, and guide joints through range of motion (ROM). Strength improves balance and reduces risk of sustaining trauma to joints in a fall.

2. Stretch every day. Manipulate all the body parts through full ROM that you plan on using the rest of your life (e.g., fingers, wrists, arms, anchors, shoulders).

3. Do balance exercises, Tai chi, Pilates, and yoga. This type of physical training helps improve joint function and proprioception in osteoarthritis patients. Chair-based variations are also recommended.

4. Maintain good posture to put less strain on your muscles and skeletal system. Good posture limits bones from unnecessary rubbing together at the joints, which prevents or delays the onset of OA. Poor posture = tight, unbalance muscles.

5. Balance motion with rest. Joints don’t like constant use, overuse. But rest too long and joints get stiff. Get up and move every hour to keep joints limber.

6. Eat healthy and lose weight. For every pound of body weight, there’s four pounds of pressure on the knee joint. The less you weigh, the less strain on the joints. Caffeine = weaker bones. Weaker bones = weaker joints.

7. Don’t overestimate how much your joints can handle. For example, when weight training, don’t lift an excessive number of repetitions (limit to 8-12 reps per set).

8. Don’t jump. Jumping adds joint load of 20X your body weight.

9. Wear the right shoes. Shoes that cause body weight to be unevenly distributed place extra stress on knee joints. Uncomfortable or poor-fitting shoes can also throw off your stride and stress the knees.

The Takeaway: Keep moving. Take advantage of online exercise classes and videos and follow an anti-inflammatory diet.

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