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Staying Active With Psoriatic Arthritis: Ruth's Story
Ruth led an active life until her psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. Read how Ruth got active again, and learn how to safely exercise and play sports.
By Marie Suszynski
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Psoriatic arthritis can strike hard and fast, causing swollen joints and tendonitis so bad it leaves people debilitated. When it flares, even daily tasks can be challenging. When it’s under control though, balancing psoriatic arthritis and exercise doesn’t have to be a struggle.
In fact, 63-year-old retiree Ruth Bagge of Everett, Wash., still enjoys mountaintop views 11 years after being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis tends to make certain forms of exercise difficult. It tends to affect joints in the toes and ankles, and causes inflammation of the tendons, explained Bradley Lamm, DPM, chief of foot and ankle surgery at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics in Baltimore, Md.
Foot pain and inflammation is a principal characteristic of psoriatic arthritis, which can lead to erosion of the small joints in some people. Many experience stiffness in their feet and trouble walking in the evenings, but some also experience these symptoms in the morning.
During a flare, you should rest the joints and treat the swelling, Dr. Lamm said. But at other times, it’s important to stay active because moving your joints can actually stave off further stiffness.
Psoriatic Arthritis and Exercise: Ruth’s Story
Ruth was active her whole life and has been hiking since college, but about 11 years ago, things changed very quickly. In a matter of months, Ruth went from being fairly pain-free to having trouble doing just about everything.
Her wrists hurt so much she couldn’t take laundry out of the washing machine. Walking became so painful she prowled for the closest parking spots she could find wherever she went. Just holding onto the steering wheel in her car hurt her joints. She couldn’t vacuum or do yard work. Even shaking hands with people at work was painful.
“I went from being someone who could do anything I wanted to, within three or four months, where I could hardly think of anything I could do,” Ruth said.
Her doctor told her virtually every joint in her body was being affected by arthritis, including her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, and toes.
Once Ruth was properly diagnosed, she was able to begin treatment. She started taking entanercept (Enbrel), a biologic drug that works on the immune system, and noticed a dramatic change in her symptoms in about two weeks. She felt back to normal after about a month of being on the drug.
Today, she’s as active as she ever was. She hikes 15 to 20 miles a week — in the winter, she hikes along rivers and lakes and, in the summer, she hikes mountains until she reaches beautiful views.
She’s also training for a 250-mile bike ride she’s planning to do in September with her daughter. The ride will last six days and follow the Missouri River.
When she’s not hiking or biking, she’s at the gym using the elliptical machine, free weights, weight machines, or doing floor exercises and stretching.
Psoriatic Arthritis, Sports, and Exercise
Ruth is doing exactly what experts say people with psoriatic arthritis should do.
Low-activity exercise and sports are best, Lamm said. That includes swimming and biking, which add strength without putting the load on your joints that running or jumping does. Even the elliptical machine at the gym is a good idea, Lamm said.
Other sports that put more stress on the joints and may cause flares include baseball, golfing, tennis, football, and all other contact sports. When a sport requires a lot of stop-and-go activity, such as tennis and baseball, it puts stress on the foot and ankle, he said.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid playing your favorite sport when you have psoriatic arthritis, but it does mean taking some precautions. Give your joints a break by playing doubles tennis instead of singles when you can and protect your feet and ankles with supportive shoes and ankle braces, he said. You also will help your joints by running on flat, soft surfaces. Avoid a grassy field that provides an uneven terrain and go for a track or even a field over concrete.
Any time you have a flare, Lamm recommended resting the joint, icing it, elevating it and using compression, such as a wrap.
Although Ruth is active, she is sure to listen to her body to keep her joints healthy. If she’s sore after a particular workout, she’s gentle on herself the next day.
If it weren’t for her psoriatic arthritis treatment, she wouldn’t have been able to get back to her old activity level. Plus, if she didn’t exercise and stay active, she wouldn’t reap the benefits: less stress and a feeling of relaxation.
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