PAIN CARE

How to Cope with Arthritis

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
 | 
January 23, 2017

Learning about the disease, exercise, and a healthy diet all help.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with more than 100 different types. 

More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older, according to the Arthritis Foundation. 

 

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Its symptoms are also different for everyone. For some, it can stay the same for years, for others it can progress rapidly, with frequent flares. It can affect different parts of the body, sparing others. 

Its complicated nature makes coping with arthritis a complicated process, but there are some common rules of thumb that most everyone with arthritis can follow. 

“Learning about the disease and treatment options, making time for physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are essential,” according to the Arthritis Foundation.

First, it’s important to know when to see your doctor about joint pain for an evaluation and diagnosis. The earlier the better. You should make an appointment if joint symptoms last three days or more or you have “several episodes” of joint symptoms within in month. Once diagnosed, self-management of your arthritis becomes paramount. 

In general, you should keep track of your symptoms, levels of pain, the medications you take, and potential side effects so you can find what works best for you, the Arthritis Foundation says. 

Don’t let pain and fatigue become too much to bear. You can use both medication and non-medication techniques to manage the disease. 

It’s important to learn ways to make your life easier while living with arthritis to prevent or control the underlying fatigue that stress and pain can cause. 

Although it seems counterintuitive, exercise is very important because it can strengthen muscles that support your joints, maintain range of motion, help improve sleep, boost your sense of well-being, and help you lose weight that adds to the joint pain. 

Conversely, light activity with some rest (but not bedrest, which decreases muscle tone and increases stiffness) is critical if your disease is active and joints are painful. “Pace yourself throughout your day and take breaks to conserve energy,” the Arthritis Foundation says. 

Eat a healthy, balanced diet that helps you maintain a healthy weight and place a priority on foods with anti-inflammatory properties to help control inflammation. 

 

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If you have trouble sleeping, which can come with chronic pain, take some measures to help improve it. Your bedroom should be dark, cool, and quiet, avoid caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evening, and wind down with a “warm bath or practice relaxation techniques before bedtime,” the Arthritis Foundation advises.

“If you invest in yourself and recognize your responsibility – and ability – to take good care of yourself, you can live well with arthritis,” the Arthritis Foundation says. “You’ll need to make adjustments, but make sure your goals are realistic, even if they involve only small steps right now. No one can take better care of you than you can.”

Longtime New York Times health columnist Jane Brody has osteoarthritis and wrote that she won’t take it “lying down.”In fact, there are preventive aspects to arthritis that everyone should take to heart before they develop it. 

“There is much you can do to forestall it, minimize its symptoms and overcome the disability that can result,” she writes

She makes sure to remain active, for example, a major factor in the number of falls people with arthritis have. Water aerobics, for example, is very popular for people with significant arthritis and may be covered by insurance. (But don’t go jogging if you have knee arthritis; your best bet is to stick to non-impact exercises.)

A national survey in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among people with arthritis, the prevalence of two or more falls during the previous year was 137 percent higher than people their age without arthritis. 

“But even with the best of diet and exercise regimens, arthritis can take a significant toll on daily activities, including such routine tasks as buttoning a shirt, threading a needle, and handling kitchen tools,” Brody adds. Aids that help you accomplish those and other tasks can be found at specialty websites. 

So far, Brody writes, no jar top has stood in her way of retrieving the contents.

 

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Updated:

January 23, 2017

Reviewed By:

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA