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Exercise and Arthritis

Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Is it Possible to Exercise with an Arthritic Hip?

picture of dancing woman

Keep on Dancing

Dear Twins: I just found your site and already feel encouraged. I am 56 years old and have been an ‘off again…on again” exerciser!! When I was much younger I was very athletic. Four years ago I trained to walk a 1/2 marathon but the week before the race, I pulled ligaments in my ankle. Since then I haven’t done much of anything.

About 6 weeks ago I began going to Zumba classes 2-3 times a week. Three weeks ago I began to have a lot of pain in my hips. I went to the doctor and was told I have arthritis in my hips and I also had bursitis. My doctor told me to lay off Zumba for two weeks and gave me a prescription to help with inflammation. He told me that I will probably have to take the medication long term to help with the arthritis but the pain from the bursitis will go away after a week or so. I have tried to go back to the Zumba classes but I am concerned the pain will start back up or get worse. I am in really good health otherwise.

Can you advise me as to the risks I would take if I continued to do the Zumba? Also, what other cardio activities can I do that will be okay with my arthritis in my hips? I really feel my best when I am exercising and just started to feel good and have more energy when the pain started. Any suggestions you may have would help!!

Carla, Abilene, TX

x-ray picture of hipsYour question is an excellent one, and will resonate with many of our readers. You are right about the many benefits of exercise, including for arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, arthritis can be slowed or mitigated with exercise – the challenge is finding the right type.

Low Impact Cardio

If your doc has cleared you to return to Zumba, you may want to ease in and modify the lateral moves (sideways, such as grapevine). Are you able/ willing to add aqua classes to your workout plan? Zumba aqua dance classes exist. You do not need to be a good swimmer to join an aqua class. Shallow water classes are in water that’s generally hip deep. If your gym has only deep water classes, you can use swim lessons as your workout, then wear the buoyancy belts once you’re a more confident swimmer.
For other cardio options, try anything that is low impact (high intensity is fine, but NOT high impact) and more forward and back than side to side. One caveat – depending on where the arthritis is in your hips, spending a lot of time on a machine such as a stair-stepper could be contraindicated. Besides, you seem to be a person who enjoys group fitness classes, so try a variety of those. A varied exercise plan is more effective than a repetitive one for most people.

Strength Training

You might also consider some stretch and strengthen classes. Stretch to open up the hips and strengthen to give your muscles more  of the workload, which eases the load on your skeletal structure (bones). Since you mention a ligament injury to your ankle, I would think strengthening that area might be a priority, especially if compensations are affecting your hips. Have you worked with a physical therapist to strengthen that ankle, while considering the impact on your hips (such as an altered gait)? You can probably even find a therapist who is ALSO a personal trainer by searching at ideafit.com or acefitness.org.

Range of Motion (ROM)

In addition to low-impact cardio and strength training, you may want range of motion exercises too. This article from Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center goes into more detail about everything mentioned above, including the need for tailored, specific range of motion activities.


Rest is an integral part of any exercise regimen, arthritis or no! Check with your doctor about creating the right combo of rest time, anti-inflammatory meds, ice, and possibly even meditation.

Partner with your Doctor

We’ve had good luck getting specific advice for our exercise-loving bodies by choosing primary care doctors who also value exercise. We’ve had some doctors who wanted to prescribe medicine for our arthritic knees. Their advice was to stop exercising. We switched to doctors who used medication as a last resort and aligned with our preference to keep moving. We are not advocating dumping your doc or ignoring his advice; we are advocating getting into a partnership with your doctor so that he can work WITH you to create a plan that includes exercise.

This quote is from Mayo: “Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff. Talk to your doctor about how exercise can fit into your current treatment plan. What types of exercises are best for you depends on your type of arthritis and which joints are involved. Your doctor or a physical therapist can work with you to find the best exercise plan to give you the most benefit with the least aggravation of your joint pain.”

As women who are similar to you – arthritic joints, exercise-loving, youthful minds, mid-50s – we know it’s possible to keep moving. We just have to be pickier than we were 30 years ago. There IS a solution, and your positive attitude will be a big part of it! Please keep us posted. Happy dancing.

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Photo credits / Morgue File: X-Ray of hips: xandert; Dancing woman: Earl53


Which Running Surfaces Are Best?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

The best running surfaces to protect boomer joints, including knees, ankles, hips and spine.

Run on Asphalt. No sidewalksRunners and joggers seem so devoted to running that they head out anytime, anywhere, and on any surface. When we are out walking, we enjoy seeing runners with enviable good joints zipping along. And we worry about their injury potential given some of the surfaces they run on.

If you are a runner or powerwalker who wants to stay as injury free as possible, (especially into midlife) consider what’s under your shoes. The surface you run on can either help protect or hurt your joints. Your foot is hitting that surface thousands of times, and the repeated impact can go straight to those joints.

Follow the Trail of Three “S’s”

Kymberly: When doing a workout with impact, you generally want a surface that offers three qualities: Springback, Shock absorption, and Stability. Isn’t that convenient that they all start with S? On the extreme end of springback is a trampoline. The ultimate shock absorber is sand. The stablest surface is a hard, even one, such as concrete. The ideal running surface combines all three factors without being too soft or too hard. Sounds like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Alexandra: The research is all over the place on the “best” surface, mainly because of the variables, such as your foot placement, shoe type, foot-to-hip angle, previous injuries and so on, but a running tip from the University of California at San Francisco probably sums it up best – “It’s a good idea to train on the environment you’re going to run on and usually that’s asphalt, which makes up most city streets.”

Kymberly: Your underfoot surface is the first line of defense against the shock waves that travel up your body from toe to head with every footfall. Whatever the surface does not absorb, is next taken in by your shoe, then your foot, then your ankle, then lower leg muscles, then knee joint, and so on, traveling up your spine and body.

Consider Foot Strike and Joint Impact

Alexandra: As my dislike for running is well-documented, I can reveal that to me asphalt means, “My Ass is at Fault for you getting distracted.” Boom Shacka Lacka. I used to run when I played soccer, but the gopher holes in the grass trashed my knee. So I definitely do NOT like running on grass, even though research indicates it to be a forgiving surface. Some really recent research found that runners unconsciously adapt their footfall patterns to the type of surface they’re running on, which is quite interesting. For me, I don’t care as much about where my foot strikes the ground, but how much my reconstructed knee feels the impact. Which means I prefer indoor tracks to almost anything outdoors, especially concrete. If I had a track locally like the Regupol that Usain Bolt ran on for his Berlin Golds, I might even try running a bit. Say, maybe they could make soccer fields out of it so I could play my beloved sport again. It’s recycled and so is my knee!

Dear Santa, please bring all these men good knees (and some sense)

Dear Santa, please bring all these men good knees (and some sense)

Kymberly: Dear Sis: Shouldn’t that be “BoomER Shacka Lacka?” Sha boomer bam! For the rest of you, picture concrete. Stable, yes. But no springback; no cushioning. Run-thunk-run-thunk-run-ouch! And where oh where is there a lot of concrete out there? Sidewalks! And what’s right next to a lot of sidewalks? Porous, springy, impact absorbing asphalt or pavement. And grass. (Lawn ranks up there with both runners and researchers as a good, protective surface.) Yet, I repeatedly see runners pounding it out on the sidewalk. Unless traffic or some other safety issue prevents it, why not run on more joint-friendly asphalt?

barefoot running on wet sand

If I run on wet sand will I get calves like these…with the guy attached?

Other run- and walk-friendly surfaces include most modern indoor and outdoor tracks. Heck, dirt and trails or hard, flat sand are better than concrete when it comes to dealing with impact. Gopher holes are another matter altogether though!

Dirt trail for runners, joggers, walkersSo when you next lace up your running, trail, powerwalking, go get ‘em workout shoes,  pick surfaces that offer three “S’s”: Springback, Shock Absorption and Stability. Did I say “three”? I meant four. Add in “Sweat.” And take out Sidewalks.

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Run safely over to our YouTube channel to see short videos that will improve your fitness with maximal impact yet minimal joint issues! Have you subscribed yet to our blog? Please also follow us on google +Alexandra and +Kymberly, on Twitter: AlexandraFunFit and KymberlyFunFit and Instagram: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit. Or click now on the icons above.

Photo credits: Barefoot runner –  sundero; Santa runners – historygradguy (jobhunting)



No Pain, No Gain…No Way!: Karen Whittier’s Inspirational Yoga Story

Guest post from Karen Whittier

I’ve been active all my life.  I took the slogan “no pain, no gain” to heart and if I didn’t feel completely spent after a workout I didn’t consider it a workout.

Karen Whittier- yoga and injury

Karen Whittier

Just like every other working mother out there (I know that’s redundant) spare time is something rare.  So when I did have the opportunity to get some exercise, I’d go run figuring running gave the most bang for my pavement-pounding buck.  Sure I knew runners were supposed to stretch—either before or after running depending on who you listened to.  BUT they just didn’t understand…I didn’t have time for that.

Over the years, the body will try to do what it can to keep going. It’s very easy to choose to ignore your body’s signals that things are amiss. I certainly ignored warnings from my body, but I didn’t want to change my workouts or admit anything was wrong. Sooner or later, though, the body’s quiet distress signals will become full-fledged screams.

The usual progression of overuse leads right to injuries.  I had a handful of injuries, leading up to the one that definitely got my attention.  I was out running when I heard a pop and simultaneously jumped straight up; crumpling on the trail when I landed.  Unfortunately I was out a distance from my car and so I did my best to shuffle/limp the rest of the back.  My tight, unpliable hamstrings were the culprit and I was forced into some stretching exercises with physical therapy when my injury healed.  I even voluntarily tried some yoga classes.

I guess this is an indictment on my intelligence but once I started feeling better I lapsed right back into the prior patterns.  It wasn’t too long before injuries and newly diagnosed arthritis knocked me out of action again.

I credit yoga with reclaiming my physical freedom.  I’d gotten to the point where, almost every day, I’d be in tears suffering from chronic pain and stiffness from arthritis.  I was given more and more medication. None, except cortisone shots, did anything to alleviate the pain and unfortunately cortisone shots are not something that can be done routinely.

Karen Whittier, Commit to the CauseI was getting to the point of desperation.  I faintly remembered feeling better when I’d done yoga.  I decided to commit more fully to it and, sure enough in not too long a time, the range of motion in my hips and shoulders increased; I stood up taller and moved more fluidly.  Having my brain work with my body, as partners, has made all the difference!  I’m not 100% pain free every day and I’ll never be described as flexible, but I am no longer taking anti-inflammatories and I’m much, much more flexible than I was.

Karen Whittier- Embrace Activism

I was so impressed by the results yoga gave me I ended up going through a teacher training program.  I’ve been able to unite my passion for health and wellness through yoga with my commitment to fight disease with a new business, Embrace Activism.  You might not be able to envision just what you’ll discover once you begin your yoga journey, but I can promise you it’ll be life-changing.

One of my favorite quotes to now live by is from William Arthur Ward: “Do more than belong: Participate.  Do more than care: Help.  Do more than believe: Practice.  Do more than be fair: Be Kind.  Do more than forgive: Forget. Do more than dream: Work.”

Dear Readers: Add to your online workout buddy list and actively embrace Karen over at her site, www.EmbraceActivism.com.

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