Living with osteoarthritis means learning to manage your disease and its symptoms. And there’s much you can do to help maintain your range of motion, stay active and control pain. Here are several steps you can take to live well with osteoarthritis.
Pain management is a critical component of living with osteoarthritis. Fortunately, you have many options. The natural and non-medication choices may be particularly useful when you are suffering only mild-to-moderate pain. They include:
- Weight loss
- Low-impact exercise
- Diet and supplements
- Medications ranging from acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to opioids and steroids. Talk with your healthcare provider, and always take the minimum dose necessary to manage pain.
- Improving your posture and positioning books and computer screens to avoid neck strain.
Excess weight is the enemy of arthritis. With every step, extra pounds increase the stress on joints. In fact, studies have long suggested that obesity may be a factor in developing osteoarthritis.1
Each pound lost reduces the pressure on knees by four pounds. So you can see that losing an amount like 10 pounds could significantly reduce the joint pressure … and you are likely to find a slower progression in your symptoms.
While the pain and swelling of osteoarthritis may seem to challenge normal movement, it’s important to keep moving. The key, however, is to match your activity to your disease. Here are several recommendations:
- Keep moving and strive for a full range of motion. You want to stay flexible and reduce stiffness without overusing joints.
- Don’t stretch cold muscles; warm up first.
- Limit yourself to low-impact exercise—biking, swimming, stair climbing, rebounding (using a mini-trampoline), walking and yoga.
- Start small. Don’t launch right into an aggressive exercise routine.
Living with osteoarthritis is easier when you stabilize your joints. While you can’t rebuild cartilage, you can build the muscles surrounding an arthritic joint and maintain bone density. Strong bones and muscles may help protect your joint, take stress off the joint itself and reduce pain.
- Choose low-impact, weight-bearing exercises to build bone.
- Choose non-weight-bearing, aerobic exercises to build muscle.
- Exercise for short periods.
An important aspect of pain management is through the reduction of inflammation and swelling. And your most proactive strategy is through diet and supplementation. Below are a few choices for a healthful diet:
- Mediterranean diet with eggs, poultry, greens and olive oil.
- Fatty, cold-water fish add omega-3.
- Eggs for vitamin D
- Above all, avoid sugar, which adds weight and increases inflammation.
Respect your Limitations
Sometimes we think we need to gut it out and work through our pain. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. But that doesn’t hold for osteoarthritis. Try to think ahead, choose labor-saving devices and find ways to keep active while modifying your activities. Treat your joints with respect. Some of the following tips may help you to live well with osteoarthritis:
- Distribute weight across your strongest muscles, bones and joints. For example, carry bags on your shoulder rather than in your hand.
- Choose long-handled tools in the garden and to reach items from a high shelf.
- Use jar openers, faucet paddles, bookstands, extra-fat pencils and pens and kitchen appliances.
- Above all, ask for help when you need it.
Get Your Sleep
Sleep is essential for health in many ways. When you get adequate sleep, it’s usually easier to live with osteoarthritis. Sleep is restorative, it improves mood and reduces depression. Also, when you’re alert, you’ll be less likely to have an accident that could make your symptoms worse. So:
- Avoid daytime catnaps.
- Set up your bedroom to encourage sleep—keep the room cool, quiet and dark.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake because it can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Don’t use computer devices just before going to sleep.
Although age is the primary factor for developing osteoarthritis, joint injury can also lead to arthritis. And once you have osteoarthritis, you need to be extra careful. Following these guidelines could help you avoid injuries:
- Lift with your legs, not your back.
- If you feel shaky on your feet, use a cane or walker to prevent a fall.
- Install handles and handrails in the bathroom.
- Reach for the handrails when climbing or descending stairs.
Treat with Heat and Ice
For those times when you exercise (especially when you overdo), heat and ice can help relieve the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. The trick is to know the best time for each:
- Warm your joints before you exercise. The heat helps reduce stiffness.
- After a workout, ice your joints for 20 minutes…before reaching for the pain medications.
Talk with Your Healthcare Provider
While that aching joint may have you thinking you have arthritis, it’s important to know whether it’s osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or some other condition that mimics the symptoms. That’s because treatments vary. Also, if you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you should track the progression of your disease. Talk with your doctor and get regular checkups. Discuss the best ways to live with osteoarthritis, including the benefits of consulting a chiropractor, naturopath or nutritionist. Your doctor will also advise you on the best use of medications. If you need more help, you may want to join a support group to share your experiences with others.
If you keep a healthy attitude toward your condition, think ahead and be proactive, you can live well with osteoarthritis.