Cycling To Help With Arthritis

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Doctors recommend cycling as an exercise treatment beneficial for patients with arthritis, and it may help with the pain too.

Arthritis can hit anybody without warning regardless of age. It is very a very painful condition that often gets worse with time. In many cases arthritis is genetic, but often, it is caused by stress on the joints. The stress could be the result of obesity or an inactive lifestyle, but commonly, it appears as a result of strenuous activity and exercise. Ironically, exercise is recommended to relieve the pain and to improve the health of joints and cartilage. There is a balance many people overlook. Exercises like running can put severe stress on the joints like the knees, and while cardio health is improved, this activity could cause degeneration of those joints by way of arthritis. The pain caused by arthritis can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, but that can lead to even more accelerated deterioration as the cartilage and joints need exercise to maintain function.

Suffering? Grab your bike & go for a ride!

What makes a “comfort bike” comfortable.
(Click image to enlarge it.)

One common recommendation for arthritis sufferers of the lower limbs and spine is cycling. Riding stationary or outdoor bikes have many advantages to maintaining proper care of arthritic areas, by providing movement without subjecting the weight-bearing joints to a great deal of impact. Increasing muscle strength gives more support to the joint areas like the knees, and puts less stress on the joint itself. It increases flexibility, and keeps the blood flowing. Also, exercise in general is good for emotional health, which in turn can help aide in physical health. On outdoor bikes, sometimes balance is an issue, especially for those who have been inactive or severely ill for a lengthy period of time. These people should use caution when riding a bicycle, but learning balance can increase physical strength as well, and lead to even more efficiency at using cycling for arthritis treatment. If balance is just too much of an issue, considering a stationary bike or an outdoor tricycle can help.

There are also ways to customize a bike to prevent posture and pressure issues that could make things worse. Using a thickly padded, gel, or air filled seat will help to support the buttocks and keep pressure off the spine. By using Y-shaped handlebars with ergonomic grips, it can help to keep posture upright and prevent stress on the hands and back. Also, suspension and widened wheels can reduce the bumps and jolts that one normally endures on even the smoothest terrain. Taking the time and money to set up a bicycle properly will ensure the best results for treating the pain, rather than worsening it.

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Kristin Armstrong competing in the London 2012 Women’s Olympic Time Trial. (Photo credit: David Iliff)

Kristen Armstrong: Olympic Gold Medalist & Arthritis Patient

For many arthritis patients, cycling is much more than physical therapy. Take for instance, Olympic gold medalist Kristen Armstrong. Kristen was an athlete throughout school and swim instructor at the YMCA, until she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hips in 2001. After a lot of medication and physical therapy, she decided to join a local cycling group.

She quickly accelerated her abilities, and before she knew it was competing in international bike races. After a few years of cycling all over the globe and dozens of medals, she landed herself at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, where she brought home the gold medal, only the second American female cycling gold medal in history. Her dedication to riding every day is what she ultimately attributes to her success at winning the gold medal, without feeling the backlash of painful revenge of the OA.

Even skipping a couple of days here and there will cause the deep dull pain to come back around, she says. That pain is always a friendly reminder to get back on track.

Personal trainers, physical therapists, and your physician, will help you get “back in the saddle”.

It is recommended that someone speak with their doctor before they start cycling, to make sure they are healthy enough for that kind of activity. It is also a good idea to track down a personal trainer or physical therapist to help set up a treatment plan and monitor daily activity. The recommended starting point will likely be about 5 minutes of pedaling, about 3 times a day. As the body gets used to cycling, it can be increased. Usually the target goal is about 60 minutes in total per day. If any new pain becomes apparent, it is recommended that the program be halted, as it could be a sign of a worsening condition.

 

Written By: Jenna McClure
Sources: Arthritis Today, AZ Central, Livestrong
Photo Credit: Dedivan1923 at Stockfreeimages.com

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