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Playing to win: Exercise helped Susan Rysz face her opponent

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Susan Rysz never minded a little friendly competition. Whether sprinting past competitors on the track or scoring three-point shots in basketball, Rysz always played to win. So, when fluid extracted from her swollen knee confirmed she had psoriatic arthritis, she was not willing to allow herself to be sidelined.

What is psoriatic arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis, one of more than 100 different types of arthritis, is related to the skin condition psoriasis. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue. People with psoriatic arthritis often have inflamed, scaly skin that's typical of arthritis. Symptoms also include red, irritated eyes and painful, stiff, swollen joints.

Over the years, Rysz suffered severely from all of these symptoms. For more than 15 years, swollen feet, crippled fingers and a stiff back and neck limited her mobility. Although even daily tasks like eating, bathing and dressing were a struggle, Rysz refused to give up — exercising as much as her disease would allow. Then, an appointment with Virtua Health rheumatologist Sheldon Solomon, MD, changed her life. Treating the whole person
"Dr. Solomon was the first physician to treat me, not just my arthritis," says Rysz. "He saw me as a wife, a mother, and a woman who, despite my disease, desperately wanted to remain as physically active as possible." To help reduce her pain and morning stiffness, Rysz took the medication entanercept. This medication blocks an immune system protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) that causes inflammation in people with certain types of arthritis.

Why exercise is so important
Dr. Solomon also introduced Rysz to Virtua's William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness. "Physical therapy and exercise help patients with arthritis maintain muscle strength, joint mobility and flexibility. These activities also help reduce pain and improve sleep, as well as help people maintain a healthy weight," says Dr. Solomon.

Maria Franchio, PT, Virtua's assistant director of rehabilitation services, explains how exercises help patients who have arthritis. "Endurance exercises, such as aerobics or bike riding, have several benefits," says Franchio. "They strengthen the heart, increase energy levels and control weight." Range-of-motion exercises like stretching help reduce stiffness and keep joints moving, while strengthening exercises like weight training help maintain or increase muscle strength.

An inspiration for others with arthritis
Today, Rysz has come a long way. She stays active with regular workouts and coaches weekly basketball games. She is also a certified aquatic therapy instructor at the Center for HealthFitness, teaching others with arthritis the importance of physical activity. "People in my class think I'm an inspiration," she says. "I just tell them it's all in the way you play the game."

For more information about Virtua's physical therapy programs, to make an appointment with a Virtua rheumatologist, or to learn more about the services offered at the Center for HealthFitness, call 1-888-Virtua-3.