What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
Article by John Miller
If you think that there’s nothing you can do about arthritis? Great news! You can act right now. Some of the ideas here are simple, one-time actions. Others are first steps toward longer-term goals. All can directly or indirectly improve your health, outlook or pain level, and can generally make life with arthritis a little easier.
Get an Accurate Diagnosis
If you have pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint for more than two weeks, it's time to see your doctor, physiotherapist or health professional. These symptoms can develop suddenly or slowly. Only a well-trained health professional doctor can tell if it's arthritis. But "you have arthritis" is not a diagnosis. Ask for a specific diagnosis of the type of arthritis you have. There are more than 100 types – including osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis – each of which has different treatments. Getting the right treatment requires getting the right diagnosis.
Protect Your Joints
Avoid excess stress on your joints. Use larger or stronger joints to carry things. Assistive devices can make tasks at home and work easier. Look for them in the kitchen (rubber jar openers, reachers), bedroom (zipper pulls, buttoning aids), bathroom (tub bars, handrails) and for other areas of your life. Look for products with the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease-of-Use Commendation. These are items that are comfortable, easy-to-use or have user-friendly packaging.
In addition, staying close to your recommended weight also helps relieve damaging pressure on hips and knees.
Exercise helps lessen pain, increases range of movement, reduces fatigue and helps you feel better overall. A well-rounded workout routine for people with arthritis includes flexibility exercises to increase range of motion, aerobic exercises to improve endurance and decrease fatigue, and strengthening exercises to improve muscle fitness.
Your physiotherapist can show you range-of-motion exercises and strengthening exercises that are good for arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation also offers general exercise, aquatic, Tai Chi and walking programs.
The key is to have a regular exercise program. We commonly recommend that adults do a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, gardening) a week or 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of vigorous aerobic physical activity (jogging, aerobic dancing). Whether your activity is moderate or vigorous, the goal is to keep moving.
Lose weight. You won’t just look better, you’ll feel better, too. Why? Every extra kilogram you carry around translates to added stress to your knees and hips. Excess weight can mean more pain, no matter which form of arthritis you have. It can also contribute to and aggravate osteoarthritis, while increasing your risk of gout.
Stock up on your favourite source of calcium. A diet rich in this important mineral can help decrease your risk of osteoporosis. In addition, inflammatory arthritis conditions accelerate bone loss, so getting the optimum calcium intake is critical. Recommended daily doses of calcium are 1,000 mg for adults 50 and younger and 1,200 mg for adults over 50. If you don’t like drinking milk – or want some variety – try consuming more milk products, such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream. Or add powdered milk to puddings, gravies, shakes and other recipes. Other good sources of calcium: broccoli, salmon (with the bones) and kale.
Do Drugs – the Right Way
Take your medication just as your doctor prescribes. If you’re tempted to stop because you feel it’s not working or you believe it’s causing side effects, call your doctor first. It can take weeks – or even months – for the full benefits of a medication to become apparent, and some side effects ease over time. Stopping a medication abruptly may not only cause you to miss out on its benefits – in some cases it can be downright dangerous.
Begin with Breakfast
Grab some fruit, fibre (like oatmeal) and a tall glass of water instead of coffee. Like you’ve always heard, a healthy breakfast is a great way to start the day. Without it, the bad results can range from higher cholesterol, lower energy and overeating throughout the day.
Choose your favourite spots (indoors and out) and make plans to walk them at least once a week. Walking is the ideal exercise for most people with arthritis. It burns calories, strengthens muscles and builds denser bones – all without jarring fragile joints.
Sit, Soak and Soothe
A warm bath before bed can relieve muscle tension, ease aching joints and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Treat Your Muscles
Find a remedial massage therapist and treat yourself to a good rub down. The benefits vary from person to person but may include decreased pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, increased circulation, energy and flexibility, eased muscle spasms and an improvement in the body’s sleep and immune functions. Mentally, massage can also decrease stress and depression. Besides, it just feels good. Be sure to find a massage therapist who is skilled working with people with arthritis, as some elements of massages may not be appropriate for you.
Stretch Your Legs
Stretching is a simple way to keep joints and muscles flexible. It relieves stress and can help enable you to maintain your daily activities. Try this to keep your calf muscles strong and flexible: Stand two feet from a wall, with your toes pointed inward palms against the wall. Keeping your knees straight and feet flat, lean forward onto your hands without bending at the waist. Feel your calf muscles pull and extend. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then gently push away from the wall. Repeat.
Take the Plunge
Exercising in the water can build strength and increase range of motion, while the water’s buoyancy reduces wear and tear on sore joints. There are many aquatic programs and exercises that are great for people with arthritis. Try water walking, for example. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so you’re getting a great workout without the wear and tear on your joints.
When joints are hot and inflamed, applying something cold can decrease pain and swelling by constricting blood vessels and preventing fluids from leaking into surrounding tissues. Our favourite ice pack: a bag of frozen peas or corn that can be molded to the shape of your body.
If only for a day, and then another … and another. Smoking can increase your risk of complications from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It can increase your risk of developing psoriasis and can predispose you to osteoporosis. Also, if you have to undergo joint surgery, smoking can prolong your recovery. Arthritis drugs can also be less effective for smokers and smoking can contribute to sleep problems.
Enjoy Your Exercise
Take the work out of working out. Sign up for a class that makes exercise fun – country line dancing, ballroom dancing, swimming, yoga or tai chi. Some have specific benefits for people with arthritis. Tai chi, for example, specifically reduces the pain and impairment for people with severe knee osteoarthritis. The slow, graceful exercise – originally a Chinese martial art – also reduces stress and can improve balance. Yoga strengthens and relaxes muscles stiff from arthritis, as well as helps with weight loss programs.
For more individual advice, we urge you to seek the opinion of your health professional.
FAQs about Arthritis
Specific Arthritis Conditions
Common Arthritis Treatments
Helpful Products for Arthritis
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