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Ease arthritic pain by switching shoes

August 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Arthritis affects 46 million people, more than five times the population of New York City. Some doctors say you may be able to ease that pain by switching your shoes. A new study is turning the rules of footwear upside down.It's a fast-paced, high-intensity, exhausting job that coach Beatrice Jirasek loves.

"I've been coaching girls, God, you're talking 30 years," said Jirasek, who has arthritis.

But arthritis in her knees nearly sidelined her for good.

"I felt as almost if my body was going to collapse under me," said Jirasek.

When painkillers didn't work, she found the real problem, at her feet.

"What we put on our feet has a huge impact on our knees and our hips," said Dr. Najia Shakoor, a rheumatologist at Rush University Medical Center.

Doctors at Rush University Medical Center study footwear's impact on arthritis. Cameras, sensors and 3-dimensional software measure the force different shoes put on your knees. They've looked at flip-flops, clogs, flat sneakers and supportive shoes.

"For years we've been thinking that really supportive shoes are good for our feet," said Shakoor.

The study found the opposite. Supportive shoes and clogs put 15 percent more force on the knees. More force equals more joint problems.

"While the very lightweight shoes, including flip-flops in this case, were associated with the lowest forces, almost as though someone was barefoot," said Shakoor.

Shakoor won't prescribe flip-flops for everyone, but says wearing a flat, flexible shoe can ease the strain on arthritic knees and hips.

"I was walking around with these clunky, kind of like grandma shoes," said Jirasek.

"I'm thoroughly surprised that this shoe, which was like in the prototype and stuff, could have done that for me," said Jirasek.

It didn't eliminate the pain, but it helped to keep the coach in the game.

Jirasek now sports new "kicks" and wears them at least six hours a day.

Doctors at Rush University are developing a sneaker specifically for arthritis patients. The shoe has special grooves in the sole that allow it to bend where the foot naturally bends. Their goal is to prevent hip and knee replacements in the future.

BACKGROUND: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 294,000 children under the age of 18 suffer from some form of arthritis. What is even more startling -- it is estimated by the year 2030, 67 million Americans are expected to have arthritis. This is 21 million more people that will be diagnosed in the next 20 years compared to the 46 million diagnosed now. Arthritis is defined as having any inflammation in a joint that can cause stiffness, redness and pain (Medicinenet.com). Here are some important signs and symptoms of arthritis development to look out for: swelling and pain in the fingers, arms, legs and/or wrists, fever, sharp pains, and occasional chills. Experts also warn parents to look for important signs in young children who may have arthritis. Symptoms may include: loss of appetite, sever weight loss, anemia, and blotchy rashes and spots. (Webmd.com)

WHAT CAN MAKE THE PAIN WORSE: Certain foods can cause pain from arthritis to get worse and more severe at certain times. Traci Hanes, a writer for eHow.com, says some foods to be wary about are those containing saturated-fat and trans-fat. These two fats are known to make inflammation worse. In addition, a side effect of these fats is weight gain, which in turn can have a long term bad effect on your joints due to additional pressure and placed on the joints. Other foods to watch out for are those rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Certain chemicals in most omega-6 fatty acids actually increase inflammation and blood pressure. Some foods that contain high omega-6 fatty acids are mayonnaise, corn oils and soybeans.

ARTHRITIS CARE: The Arthritis Foundation says there are simple things you can do at home to lessen the severity of the pain. For example, use assistive devices to help carry things so that you can lessen the force and pressure being applied to your joints. Handrails in the bathroom and jar openers for cans are just a few of the devices you could invest in to lessen the pain from everyday activities. It's also important to remember that exercising helps alleviate some pain. In addition, take in as much calcium as you can. The more calcium you consume, the less of a risk you have of developing osteoporosis. Lastly, the most important reminder for at home care is to take your medications that your doctor prescribed you! If you feel the medications aren't working, contact your doctor and don't just stop taking the medications.


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