The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article recently about how important it is not to sit around moldering on the couch when you have arthritis.
"Remaining sedentary actually increases the risk of injury and pain," the author writes. Through movement, a woman by the name of Margaret Crowell was apparently able to reverse symptoms of osteoarthritis in her thumbs and hands. She now leads a class in modified yoga and tai chi moves.
"Great, wonderful," I'm thinking -- this is the right message. Heal through motion! It's one of the key themes in Saving My Knees.
And then I got angry.
Because this isn't the first article I've read espousing gentle motion for arthritis pain sufferers. So the arthritis experts are figuring this out, that lots of easy movement is a good thing, but ...
Once you have arthritis, your joint (knee, finger, whatever) has undergone significant changes, some of which aren't reversible (such as bone spurs). You're already fairly damaged.
However, no one wakes up one morning with osteoarthritis (I'll limit myself to this common wear-and-tear form of the disease), completely taken by surprise ("What! Last night when I went to bed I felt fine!"). For example, if you have osteoarthritis of the knee, you've already spent a fair bit of time -- years, most likely -- coping with and complaining about your joint pain. And, getting back to the original point, this is what made me mad.
There is a wonderful window for intervention early on with knee pain! You can heal, even if your cartilage crackles every time you bend down to pick up your slippers. I know you can because I did (and because medical studies show the tissue can heal, and because a very smart physical therapist by the name of Doug Kelsey has shown at his Austin practice that patients with knee pain can get better).
But what typically happens early on, with the first onset of knee pain? You flail around for a while on your own. Maybe you see a doctor, who just shrugs if your knee moves normally and advises you (if you're a sporting type) to take it easy for a while. Or you see a physical therapist who recommends stretching and quad strengthening (the first of which doesn't help fix the underlying problem, and the second may make it worse).
Gradually, you resign yourself to your bleak fate (and your cartilage breaks down some more, and osteophytes form and get larger, and your range of movement becomes restricted, and ...)
Crazy! Because what those arthritis patients are doing at age 65 when their joints are trashed is what they should've been doing at age 45 when their joints were starting to give them problems! Lots and lots of gentle movement is a great prescription, but it's coming too late.
That's what infuriates me -- that knee pain isn't being treated seriously, systematically and properly early in the disease cycle of arthritis.
Seriously means doctors should stop shrugging helplessly and saying there's nothing they can do yet for hurting knees and should start focusing on early intervention to stave off arthritis.
Systematically means the design of a user-specific movement program aimed at gradually strengthening the bad knee.
Properly means the right kind of motion -- not high-load, low-repetition (quad strengthening) but low-load, high-repetition (knee strengthening).