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Rush University scientists examine possible psychological cause of arthritis pain

December 28, 2012

Staying physically active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but conditions such as osteoarthritis can make it difficult to do so. Understanding how osteoarthritis works can help scientists devise effective treatments, and researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago believe they may have uncovered a new method of addressing the common condition.

The research team, which was joined by scientists from Northwestern University, was interested in the neurological source of the pain caused by osteoarthritis. They monitored the physical effects of the condition in mice as well as the corresponding activity in the neurons. The study leaders say that their findings could open new paths to reduce the pain because previous research has largely been focused on other areas.

"Clinically, scientists have focused on trying to understand how cartilage and joints degenerate in osteoarthritis," said Dr. Anne-Marie Malfait, an associated professor of biochemistry and internal medicine at Rush. "But no one knows why it hurts."

Though the research marks a breakthrough in helping understand the psychological root of arthritis pain, there is still considerable work to be done until new treatments can be developed. However, there are currently methods available to help the approximately 27 million older adults with arthritis enjoy senior living.

Exercise has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce arthritis pain. It may seem difficult to stay active with discomfort, but gentle exercises such as range of motion activities and strength building workouts can improve flexibility and increase bone strength. Aerobic exercise, even something as light as walking, can help as well, according to the Mayo Clinic.