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Addressing arthritis through movement, classes

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: Recently, I have begun experiencing pain in my knees, making it difficult for me to get up from a chair. A friend suggested I could have arthritis. I don’t know a lot about the disease beyond seeing it mentioned in ads for pain relievers on television. What should I do?

A: Your question about arthritis is timely because May is Arthritis Awareness Month. This disease affects approximately one in four Americans, including many older adults. It ranks as a major cause of disability among working-age Americans.

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints, tissues surrounding the joints, and other connective tissues. Doctors have identified more than 100 types of arthritis, but its most common form is osteoarthritis —degeneration of the joint cartilage and underlying bone.

Osteoarthritis occurs most often in the knees, where you are reporting discomfort, and in the hands, hips, and spine. Arthritis can make it difficult to exercise, and yet mobility can play a major role in reducing its symptoms of pain and stiffness.

The past year of the pandemic has curtailed many group activities that kept older people active in places like senior centers and health clubs. Exercise classes and group activities were paused as we heeded medical experts and stayed home.

But spring is a time of renewal and warmer weather. And now, when more of us have been vaccinated and the Centers for Disease Control has accordingly relaxed masking guidelines, it’s an ideal time to get out and get moving.

Elder Services has partnered with the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs to promote evidence-based fitness programs for people living with arthritis, such as the Y’s Enhance Fitness.

Our own Healthy Living Center of Excellence offers courses for people who have arthritis coupled with other chronic conditions, the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program and the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program. Additionally, we offer classes in Tai Ji Quan and Tai Chi that sharpen physical and mental agility.

As always, the best approach is to discuss your pain with your physician. Try to observe the symptoms and when they occur and describe these during your visit to the doctor’s office. You might need an X-ray to receive a diagnosis.

When you receive a diagnosis as to the cause of the pain in your knees, you can obtain a plan to address it, whether it is arthritis or not. Once this happens, take a class at the Y, walk your favorite trails in a city park or a path through a local forest. Make May the month when you greet the new season by feeling great by moving in the great outdoors.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email ageinfo@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.