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  • January 17, 2019

Reducing Arthritis Joint Stress through Water Immersion

Arthritis is a chronic, localized joint disease and is a cause of pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joints. An estimated 52 million Americans or about one in five Americans suffer from arthritis. Arthritis  often limits the activities of daily living like walking or climbing stairs. It is the most common cause of disability in the United States. Because presently there is no cure for arthritis, main efforts are directed towards reducing symptoms and improving functions.

Adults with arthritis are much less likely to be physically active and more likely to remain sedentary. This is because of a perception that exercise causes pain and swelling and further damages joints. In contrast to this widely-held perception, research studies demonstrate that regular physical activity reduces pain, improves physical function, and enhances quality of life in patients with arthritis, but for some patients with arthritis, the perception can be actually true. These weight-bearing activities performed on land can be very difficult because many of the patients are overweight or obese, have to carry extra weight of their own every time they exercise, and put more stress on their joints. In some parts of the United States, heat-related exhaustion or illness is another concern for these patients when they exercise high temperatures.

This is where swimming and aquatic exercise comes in. Due to the buoyancy of water, stress on the affected joints is much lower. The risk of heat illness is also reduced as exercise is performed while being surrounded by cool water. Many patients with arthritis have other coexisting clinical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for improving vascular function. By engaging in water-based exercise participants seem to enjoy swimming more than walking or cycling. This is important because may people drop out of exercise programs within several months after they start exercising. As such, these water-based exercise are ideal forms of exercise for patients with arthritis to perform on a regular basis.

This article was written by our scholar partner, Hirofumi Tanaka, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin as part of an aquatic treatise, Water Immersion Works®: Research-Based Health Benefits of Aquatic Immersion and Activity.

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