Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Boomers learn to work, and play, around arthritis

Azam Anwar played competitive tennis in his youth, and trophies aren’t the only thing he has to show for it. An arthritic right knee reminds him of the years spent on the singles court.

“Your body starts talking to you, and you have to start backing off, trying other alternatives,” says Anwar, a cardiologist in Dallas. He has had two surgeries on his knee.

Experts say there’s no need for Anwar, 49, and other Baby Boomers with arthritis to trade their Nikes for a rocking chair.

“People with arthritis might be living under the myth that they can’t be physically active, but now we know there is no doubt that, if you exercise, it keeps you more mobile as you age and builds muscle needed to support your joints,” says rheumatologist Patience White, chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation.

White says there are numerous ways to reduce achy joints and stay in the game, including:

• Incorporating stretching and strength training into workouts.

• Playing sports that don’t place a heavy burden on joints.

• Injections for temporary relief.

• Alternative therapies.

“Your most powerful asset may even be your state of mind,” White says.

Ditch the high-risk activities

Anwar knew the solution wasn’t to stop exercising, which could lead to weight gain. So he has modified his fitness routine.

“You can’t be a hermit, but there are certain activities that are very high-risk. Now I stretch a lot more, weight-lift, golf, walk a lot,” he says.

Hard-on-the-joints sports include football, skiing, basketball and soccer, says Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon in Havertown, Penn. Walking, swimming, biking and strength-training are healthier for the joints.

Stretching and core-strengthening activities such as yoga and Pilates help stabilize weakened joints, says Nisha Manek, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic.

Keep the weight off

Eating healthy shouldn’t be overlooked as an arthritis management strategy, says David Karp, chief of the rheumatic diseases at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“In this country, obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for arthritis,” Karp says. “Overweight people can obtain joint relief even if they lose 10 pounds.”

Medicate with caution

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can help calm arthritis enough to make exercise comfortable, says Frederick Azar, orthopaedic surgeon at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis. But they carry risks.

Avid basketball player Mark Liszt, 61, of Los Angeles landed in the hospital with an ulcer from prescription anti-inflammatory drugs he took for arthritic knees. “Now, I don’t take anything,” Liszt says.

Cortisone shots can reduce inflammation but also have side effects, Azar says.

“Hyaluronic acid is another weapon in our arsenal,” Azar says, which consists of injections of a fluid already present in joints. But Azar says not all patients benefit.

Mayo Clinic rheumatologists April Chang-Miller says Botox injected into specific muscles may ease pain. “Early studies are promising,” she says.

Beyond conventional care

Alternative therapies may help, but not all are clinically proven, Zashin says.

Researchers at the Baylor Research Institute say more than half of patients in a 2007 study reported better movement and less pain after taking tart-cherry supplements.

Vitamin D is touted for bone health but also is believed to play a role in inflammation. A study published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine associated D-deficiency with inflammation in healthy women.

Preliminary data from a Tufts study suggests tai chi and chi gong exercises help knee osteoarthritis. But mostly, keep a positive attitude, says Theresa Nustvold, 44, of Amery, Wis., who has lupus-related arthritis.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service