Brisk Walks May Help, Not Harm, Arthritic Knees

Brisk Walks May Help, Not Harm, Arthritic Knees

If you suffer from knee arthritis and worry that walking will only worsen your damaged joint, a new study suggests you put your fears aside, slip on some sneakers, and take a brief but brisk walk.

The researchers estimated that if older adults with the condition added just 5 minutes of brisk walking to their day, their odds of needing knee replacement surgery could dip by 16 percent.

On the other hand, light walking — akin to a “stroll” — may have no impact, said lead researcher Hiral Master, a Ph.D. candidate in biomechanics and movement sciences at the University of Delaware.

Her team reached those conclusions by digging into data from over 1,800 older adults with knee arthritis who wore portable devices that tracked their walking intensities for at least four days.

Over the next five years, 6 percent of the participants had total knee replacement surgery.

The researchers used the data on people’s walking habits to examine the effects of replacing “non-walking” time with time spent walking at different intensities. The findings showed that substituting just 5 minutes of down time with moderate-to-high intensity walking was linked to a 16 percent decline in the odds of needing knee replacement surgery.

The study authors defined “moderate-to-high” intensity as more than 100 steps per minute. In laymen’s terms, Master said, that’s a “brisk” walk that gets your heart rate up — not a stroll around the block.

The findings were presented Saturday at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Knee osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage cushioning the joint gradually breaks down, which can eventually result in bone scraping on bone.

The condition is common among middle-aged and older Americans. According to the Arthritis Foundation, up to 13.5 percent of men and 19 percent of women aged 45 and older have knee arthritis that’s severe enough to cause pain and other symptoms.

And those patients often wonder whether walking is good or bad for their arthritic joints, said Dr. Paul Sufka, a rheumatologist at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

“They often ask whether they should minimize their activity, keep doing what they’re doing, or intensify,” said Sufka, who is also with the American College of Rheumatology’s communications committee.

“The general advice we give to patients is to stay active,” Sufka said. But, he added, the truth is there is too little evidence to give patients definitive recommendations.

The new findings do not prove that brisk walking directly lowers the risk of needing knee replacement surgery, Sufka noted.

But, “this gives us some useful information to bring to the discussion,” he added.

Overall, Sufka said, research does suggest it’s better for people with knee arthritis to be active rather than sedentary. And that’s not just for the sake of their knees. Physical activity has a range of health benefits, including lower risks of heart attack and stroke.

Master agreed, and pointed out that exercise can help arthritis patients’ mental well-being, as well as physical.

And it doesn’t take a huge lifestyle change, she explained. The new findings suggest people can benefit from adding a short, brisk walk to their day.

In fact, Sufka said, such incremental shifts may be best.

“The best exercise program is the one you can actually stick with,” he said. “If right now, you’re walking around the block every day, what would be 5 percent or 10 percent more than that? You can gradually build from where you are.”

And what if walking is painful? That’s a tricky question, Sufka acknowledged. Some patients might benefit from physical therapy rather than only exercising on their own, he said.

Beyond aerobic exercise like walking, strengthening exercises for the leg muscles supporting the knees can also be helpful, he suggested.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has an overview on knee arthritis.

SOURCES: Hiral Master, P.T., M.P.H., Ph.D. candidate, biomechanics and movement sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, Del.; Paul Sufka, M.D., assistant residency director, internal medicine residency program, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and member, communications and marketing committee, American College of Rheumatology; Oct. 20, 2018 presentation, American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, Chicago

Secondhand Smoke Exposure as Kids Tied to Women’s Arthritis

Secondhand Smoke Exposure as Kids Tied to Women’s Arthritis

Women who were regularly exposed to secondhand smoke as children might be at slightly increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, a new study hints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints. Researchers believe that a mix of genes and certain environmental factors conspire to cause the disease. And a number of studies have linked smoking to a heightened risk of RA.

The new study, published Aug. 14 in the journal Rheumatology, looked at whether childhood exposure to secondhand smoke might be a risk factor for RA, too.

The answer, researchers found, is “maybe.”

Among more than 71,000 French women followed for two decades, those exposed to secondhand smoke as kids were at somewhat higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, versus other women. That was true of women who currently smoked, and those who’d never smoked.

But those differences were not quite significant in statistical terms. That means the association between secondhand smoke and RA risk could be a chance finding.

So while the results are “provocative,” further research is necessary, one U.S. expert said.

“It’s hard to definitively say from the data what role secondhand smoke exposure in childhood plays in RA development,” said Dr. Tamar Rubinstein, a pediatric rheumatologist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

Rubinstein, who is also a member of the American College of Rheumatology, was not involved in the study.

She called the findings “interesting,” and noted that there is a “growing” body of research finding links between childhood health and environmental exposures and the risks of disease later in life.

Plus, Rubinstein said, it’s biologically plausible that secondhand smoke exposure in childhood could contribute to rheumatoid arthritis later in life.

As the study authors explain it, secondhand smoke may affect immune system development in a way that makes RA more likely to develop — particularly in kids who are genetically susceptible to the arthritic disease.

Future studies should look at whether the relationship between RA and childhood smoke exposure is stronger in people who carry RA-linked genes, according to lead researcher Dr. Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, from the Gustave Roussy Institute in Villejuif, France.

For now, the findings “highlight the importance of children — especially those with a family history of this form of arthritis — avoiding secondhand smoke,” Boutron-Ruault said in a news release from the journal.

The findings are based on 71,248 middle-aged women who were followed for over 20 years. During that time, 371 women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

In line with past studies, smokers showed a higher RA risk. Women who had ever smoked, but had no childhood exposure to secondhand smoke, were 38 percent more likely to develop RA than lifelong nonsmokers.

The risk appeared somewhat higher among smokers who were regularly exposed to tobacco smoke as kids. They were 67 percent more likely to develop RA than nonsmokers were.

However, the difference between smokers who were or were not exposed to smoking as kids was not statistically significant.

There was a similar pattern among women who’d never smoked: If they were regularly exposed to smokers as children, their risk of RA was 43 percent higher.

But again, that finding was just shy of statistical significance. And only an association was seen, not a cause-and-effect link.

“That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an association in reality,” Rubinstein said. “But it suggests we need to study this further to better understand it.”

More information

The American College of Rheumatology has more on rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCES: Tamar Rubinstein, M.D., assistant professor, pediatric rheumatology, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, New York City; Aug. 14, 2018, Rheumatology, online

Health Tip: Risk Factors for Male Osteoporosis

Health Tip: Risk Factors for Male Osteoporosis

While people typically associate osteoporosis with women, men aren’t immune.

Osteoporosis commonly leads to weakening of the skeleton and fractures. According to the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, by the age of 70, men and women are losing bone mass at about the same rate.

The institute mentions these factors that raise a man’s chances of developing osteoporosis:

  • Having a chronic disease affecting the kidneys, lungs, stomach or intestines.
  • Taking certain medications regularly.
  • Having low testosterone.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, getting insufficient calcium or failing to get enough exercise.
  • Getting older.
Health Tip: Understanding Childhood Arthritis

Health Tip: Understanding Childhood Arthritis

About 1 in 1,000 children has some type of chronic arthritis, the American College of Rheumatology says.

Arthritis can affect children of any age, although rarely during the first six months of life.

In the United States, a common medical term for the joint disease in children is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA).

Typical symptoms include: limping, stiffness upon waking up, reluctance to use a particular arm or leg, reduced activity, lasting fever and joint swelling.

If your child has JIA, the American College of Rheumatology suggests you and the child:

  • Maintain a positive outlook.
  • Consider physical and occupational therapy to increase joint motion, decrease pain and increase strength and endurance.
  • Be aware of available special accommodations at school.
Exercises for Chronic Health Conditions

Exercises for Chronic Health Conditions

Exercise can help prevent many chronic illnesses as well as make it easier to manage health conditions, from diabetes to joint pain.

In terms of prevention, aim for the recommended 150 minutes of exercise, like brisk walking or cycling, each week. Along with eating a healthy diet, this can cut your risk of diabetes by more than a third, plus increase your level of good cholesterol. Exercise also lowers body weight, blood pressure and triglycerides, thus reducing key risk factors for heart disease.

If you’re already managing a chronic illness, exercise may improve symptoms and reduce the amount of medication you need to take. It builds muscle, which helps you move more easily, and reduces stress, which can aggravate many health conditions. Back pain and arthritis improve with the right stretching and exercise plan. If you have diabetes, exercise can improve blood sugar control.

Exercise’s health effects on:

Heart disease: Regular aerobic exercise and interval training in particular are heart-healthy, boosting cardiovascular fitness.

Back pain: Core exercises strengthen the muscles around your spine, creating better support for your spine.

Arthritis: Exercise enhances the muscles that support your joints, making movement easier; it also eases stiffness.

Diabetes: Exercise helps you use insulin more effectively and lower your blood sugar level.

Asthma: Exercise can help control attacks.

If you’re managing an illness and haven’t been active, talk to your doctor about what exercises are safe, any precautions to take, what kind of discomfort is normal, and what are signs to stop, like feeling dizzy, short of breath or chest pain.

Working with your doctor is especially important when you have diabetes. Because exercise can affect blood sugar, you’ll need to take precautions to prevent blood sugar from becoming too low during workouts.

In terms of intensity, start off slow — that means you should be able to talk, but not sing, when working out.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has detailed tips on exercising with a chronic condition to help you get started safely.

Ditch the Golf Cart. Your Aging Knees Won’t Mind

Ditch the Golf Cart. Your Aging Knees Won’t Mind

Golfers with knee arthritis should park the golf cart and walk the links instead, researchers say.

While using a golf cart may seem the obvious choice for golfers with knee problems, a new small study finds that walking provides much greater health benefits. Moreover, it’s not associated with increased pain, inflammation or cartilage breakdown, the researchers said.

“Individuals with knee osteoarthritis are often concerned about pain and may be more likely to use a golf cart,” said lead study author Dr. Prakash Jayabalan. He’s an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

However, “this study has shown that golfers with knee osteoarthritis do not need to be concerned about worsening their disease through walking the course. In fact, walking provides the best health benefit,” Jayabalan said in a university news release.

More than 17 million Americans older than 50 golf regularly. Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in this age group. The condition causes swelling, pain and difficulty moving the joint.

The study included 10 older golfers with knee osteoarthritis and five without the disease, which is usually caused by wear and tear of the joint.

On one day, the study participants played one round of golf (18 holes) walking the course. On another day, they used a golf cart to play 18 holes. On each occasion, the researchers monitored the participants’ heart rates to determine their level of exercise intensity, and took blood samples to measure markers of knee inflammation and cartilage stress.

On both occasions, the golfers had an increase in these markers, but there was no difference between use of the golf cart and walking, the findings showed.

When walking the course, the heart rates of the golfers with knee problems were in the moderate-intensity zone for more than 60 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent when using a cart.

But even using the cart, golfers met daily exercise recommendations, according to the study authors.

“Bottom line: walking the course is significantly better than using a golf cart, but using a golf cart is still better than not exercising at all,” Jayabalan concluded.

The study was presented recently at the Osteoarthritis Research Society International annual meeting in Liverpool, England. Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more about osteoarthritis.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, April 28, 2018