Using data compiled from two national surveys involving more than 100,000 U.S. adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis, the study found no change in the percentage of patients who took an arthritis self-management class (11 percent) or were told to engage in physical activity (52 percent) between 2002 and 2006. (The targets for 2010 were 13 percent and 67 percent, respectively.)
But the number of obese arthritis patients whose doctors advised weight loss for pain relief increased significantly -- from 35 percent in 2002 to 41 percent in 2006, putting the 2010 target of 46 percent within reach.
Doctors were less likely to advise patients who were merely overweight, rather than obese, to shed pounds, the study found.
About 66 percent of arthritis patients are overweight or obese, which increases stress on the joints, contributing to chronic pain. Losing just 13 pounds can significantly reduce disability from knee osteoarthritis, according to the study.
Also, arthritis education programs can "improve the health of an adult ... by 15 to 30 percent more than medication alone," the study said, and physical activity helps "reduce pain and disability and to increase function."
The Arthritis Foundation offers educational programs for people with the disease in community settings such as the YMCA.
"There is good evidence that being physically active reduces pain in the long run, so it's just a matter of getting over the initial hump," said Hemlick, referring to patients' concerns about pain from exercising.
Recommended activities include low-impact exercise, such as walking, swimming, tai chi or aquatic exercise.
One expert cautioned that the study findings are subject to bias because the subjects were interviewed by telephone, and their recall might be faulty.
"Surveys by phone are great for gathering a lot of data so it eliminates the statistical problems when you have to
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