Gout is a form of arthritis which is believed to affect approximately 840 out of every 100,000 Americans and exhibits a higher prevalence among males than females. This disorder is characterized by swelling, tenderness and sharp pains in the joints. The most common location for gout to develop is in the big toe, but any of the body’s joints may be affected.
Gout is caused when the body fails to eliminate enough uric acid through the urine. The uric acid quickly builds up in the joints and forms sharp, needle-like crystals. These are responsible for the symptoms associated with the disorder. If left untreated, uric acid crystals may cause irreversible joint damage. Gout has numerous risk factors including:
Consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially wine
A diet rich in high-purine foods such as meat
Family history of gout
Puberty, which is associated with an increase in uric acid levels
High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and narrow arteries
Drugs such as diuretics, aspirin and immune suppressants used for organ transplant patients
Being male and between the ages of 40 and 50 or a post-menopausal woman
A sedentary lifestyle
Even with gout, it’s still important to get enough exercise. Excess body weight can exacerbate the symptoms of gout and increase the amount of uric acid produced by the body. Exercise also helps to improve blood flow, which can help to dissolve crystallized uric acid and carry it to the kidneys for elimination. However, exercising with gout presents many challenges. Exercise must be done in ways that avoid straining, injuring or causing unnecessary pain to the joint.
Strength training is an excellent way to improve physical fitness and also make joints less susceptible to gout. Studies show that engaging in weight-bearing exercises cause the bones and joints to become sturdier and more resistant to arthritic conditions. Although strength training can help prevent future gout attacks, it is critical to avoid exercising a joint while a gout attack is occurring. Once the condition has cleared up, it is safe to begin working on that area.
Range of Motion
Range of motion exercises have been shown to greatly reduce pain and stiffness in the joints and improve flexibility. These exercises can be especially helpful for people who spend a lot of time in one position, which allows uric acid to pool in the joints. By occasionally moving the affected joint in a gentle fashion, proper circulation and joint relaxation are encouraged.
Swimming is a great way for people suffering from gout to stay fit. This is especially true if the condition has occurred in a lower extremity such as the hip, knee, ankle or toe. Swimming offers a combination of cardiovascular and resistance exercise while still being gentle on the body and its joints. Furthermore, the motions involved in swimming encourage joint strength and blood flow. Going for a swim in warm water may have extra benefits. The water’s soothing heat will help to control pain and inflammation, increase circulation and relax the muscles surrounding the affected joint.
Fitness in Moderation
While exercise can be highly beneficial in treating and preventing gout, it’s important to keep in mind that more is not always better. Too much exercise can actually aggravate any pain and inflammation already present. Some people even believe it has triggered new attacks for them. Over-exercising can also cause rapid weight loss, which research has shown can cause uric acid levels to temporarily skyrocket. Gout sufferers are recommended to keep their exercise to a comfortable level.