Deptbanner |

                                                                                                       Posted 07/27/2006

Aging, aching? USC public health study looks at ways to help arthritis sufferers become more active

Although people suffering from arthritis may find the thought of physical activity too painful to contemplate, a study by a University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health researcher finds that healthcare professionals and communities need to do a better job to promote the health benefits of physical activity for those suffering from this debilitating disease.

Sara Wilcox, the lead author of a study in the August issue of Arthritis Care & Research, looked at the motivation that people with arthritis have to exercise and what prevents others from becoming physically active. 

The findings of the study, conducted at USC and supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of Schools of Public Health, have direct implications on ways to market and tailor exercise programs to arthritis patients, as well as how to encourage and sustain their participation.

“Our results provide useful information for understanding the experiences with and beliefs about exercise among persons with arthritis,” she said.  “We also have a better idea about developing intervention programs and recruiting patients into these programs.”

The USC research team conducted focus groups among people with arthritis.  Participants discussed their perceptions of exercise, as well as their experiences. 

Common themes among the participants:

  • Pain: Although all focus groups stressed pain as a barrier, exercisers were more likely to make adaptations and work through the pain to attain the benefits of exercise, while non-exercisers were more likely to give up exercise altogether.

  • Attitudes and beliefs: Non-exercisers were much more likely than exercisers to express the belief that they were physically unable to exercise.                                       

  •  Lack of support: Non-exercisers were more likely to cite their physician*s failure to refer them to helpful exercise programs and to voice their desire for exercise partners with similar limitations.

  • Lack of programs: For both exercisers and non-exercisers, the lack of exercise programs or facilities for individuals with arthritis is a barrier to activity.

  • Symptom management: Exercisers tended to be more positive about how exercise could reduce pain and improve mobility because they had experienced these benefits. 

Getting people with arthritis up and moving is critical because arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, Wilcox said.

Among the many approaches to disease management, exercise has been shown to reduce pain, delay disability, and improve physical function, muscle strength, and quality of life, she said.

 “Despite such compelling, well-documented benefits, rates of participation in regular exercise  are lower among individuals with arthritis than those without it,” she said.

To increase regular exercise among arthritis patients, Wilcox offers recommendations for health care professionals and communities:

  • Make a practice of prescribing exercise, with referrals and instruction.

  • Work to expand the availability of arthritis-specific exercise programs.

  • Emphasize ways in which individuals with arthritis can modify exercise to accommodate their physical limitations and effectively manage the pain.

  • Help non-exercisers change their mindsets and behavior about physical activity.

 “Arthritis is a progressive disease that costs the nation about $86 billion annually, a figure that is expected to rise as Baby Boomers age,” Wilcox said.  “While physical activity can be difficult for those who have arthritis, the long-term health benefits are critical.”

For more information:

• Arthritis Care & Research

Columbia, SC 29208 · 803-777-7000 · © University of South Carolina Board of Trustees