Despite suffering from chronic osteoarthritis that leaves fingers twisted into bony protrusions, renowned Renaissance artist and architect Michelangelo was able to come up with astounding masterpieces, from sculptures to paintings.

In a new study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, researchers found that Michelangelo's continuous artistic work such as painting, hammering and sculpting helped the artist maintain the use of his hands even until his death.

The team studied three portraits created by Michelangelo when he was 60 to 65 years old. The paintings display that Michelangelo's small joints in his left hand underwent degenerative changes that commonly result from arthritis. When they looked at earlier portraits, the artist's hands show that the artist did not suffer from any deformity yet.

In a letter to his nephew in 1552, Michelangelo complained that writing gave him discomfort. However, amid the pain he suffered, he continued to create masterpieces and was even hammering about six days prior to his death in 1564.

"It is clear from the literature that Michelangelo was afflicted by an illness involving his joints. In the past this has been attributed to gout but our analysis shows this can be dismissed," Dr. Davide Lazzeri, plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery specialist, said.

Can continuous physical activity improve the symptoms of arthritis? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that physical activity is an effective arthritis pain reliever.

In the past, doctors usually advise patients to rest the affected part of the body but today, physical activity is encouraged to reduce pain and improve function. Aside from that, it also boosts mood and the quality of life of arthritis patients. This could have been the reason why Michelangelo was able to create masterpieces despite suffering from a chronic illness.

"Indeed, the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands for as long as possible," added Lazzeri.

The CDC recommends that arthritis patients be physically active as much as possible. If they cannot perform at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week, it is essential to be as active as possible, depending on one's health status.

Photo: Harvey Barrison | Flickr 

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