ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – More women than men are afflicted with arthritis, a potentially debilitating health issue that affects one in four adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is no cure for arthritis but one local physical therapist told NEWS10’s Mary Wilson that there are ways to manage symptoms.
Pain, stiffness, or swelling in the joints are all signs of arthritis. Recognizing the challenges for people living with arthritis, and urging them to stay active is what Arthritis Awareness Month is all about.
“One of the things about arthritis is you cannot cure it, but there are ways to manage it and hopefully maybe avoid surgery or prolong a surgery, for, what’s most common is a joint replacement,” said Misty Jones. “It surprises people how debilitating arthritis actually can become.”
Jones, a physical therapist at Albany Memorial Hospital, said people can be unaware they have arthritis, only learning they have it after an injury.
“If someone has arthritis, they are much more likely to have pain after an injury and take much longer to heal,” she said.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. It can also be called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis because it usually affects older people and is due to overuse, according to the CDC. Women at the age of 65 are twice as likely as men to have symptoms thanks to hormones, weight gain, and having wider hips which put more stress on the knees.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, often presents in women at a younger age than men and can be more debilitating. Brigham and Women’s Hospital said approximately 75% of RA patients are women. Doctors are looking at a link between women’s hormones as a potential answer for why RA affects women more readily, Jones said.
RA most affects smaller joints like fingers and toes first. It can then spread to bigger joints like the wrist, elbow, ankle, and knee, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Although it’s more often seen in men than women, psoriatic arthritis affects some people who have psoriasis. It can cause swelling in the fingers and toes but can also affect any other part of the body, the Mayo Clinic said.
Everyone’s experience with arthritis may be different, so treatment is individualized. A healthcare provider can help people get in touch with the right people for treatment. Jones said it’s important to work with a physical therapist to learn exercises and become familiar with adaptive equipment.
“To hold a skinny little knife is really tough when you’ve got arthritis so increasing the size of the handles on different knives or different utensils,” she said.
Exercise is first and foremost for arthritis. Low impact exercises like biking, yoga, swimming, and walking are best, said Jones.
“So, the natural reaction is to not move, which actually is the worst thing you can do for arthritis. There are actually studies that show that exercise will decrease the pain and also improve your function,” she said.
“Another study showed that at least 20 minutes a day, three times a week will actually decrease pain. So those people that really push me to get a number, that’s the goal because that’s what is backed up by the research to decrease pain,” she added.
There have been great advances in surgical and medicinal treatments for arthritis. Jones said joint replacements are more efficient and minimally invasive which makes a big difference in decreasing recovery time and longevity of the replacement. Research for medicinal treatments is an ongoing process.
“They go in in the morning, have the surgery and they’re literally home eating dinner at their table so it’s amazing the advancements that they’ve had.”