Learning how to manage arthritis might seem like a challenge, especially at first. However, with an open mind and willingness to learn about your condition –you can learn to manage your illness and do the things in your life that matter the most. The first thing you must realize is that your arthritis doesn’t define who you are. Now more than ever, with the help of new medications and treatments, it is possible to take control of your health. It won’t be easy at first – but remember what they say: “nothing worth having comes easily.”
What is arthritis, and what are the different types of arthritis?
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. There are many different types of arthritis, each affecting more than 50 million adults in the United States alone. They all involve pain, swelling of the affected joint, stiffness, and difficulty moving the joint. The most common types of arthritis include Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis (joints in fingers). There are also many other specific kinds of arthritis, everything from Tendinitis to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The Arthritis Foundation website lists 51 different types. Here are the two most prevalent:
Osteoarthritis is the most common type and affects 85% of people with arthritis. It is arthritis of the joints, especially the hands, feet, spine, and weight-bearing joints. It causes pain and stiffness in the joints, which can make it difficult to move or work. It tends to occur in middle age (over 50) because of wear and tear on the joint. However, it can also happen because of an injury or because of obesity.
The breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage between bones (such as in your knee or hip) result in arthritis symptoms. In addition, when the cartilage wears down, bony outgrowths can form on the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the joint’s synovial membrane lining the joint. This causes pain and swelling in the surrounding area and can be accompanied by damage to other body systems. It has no cure and can affect any joint in the body.
It’s unlike Osteoarthritis in that it’s not a result of wear-and-tear on the body. Therefore it can happen at any age, though it most often begins in middle age. It affects women more often than men, and there is a hereditary component to RA.
Limitations that come with living with arthritis
Whatever type of arthritis you have, it will cause some limitations on your way of life. Pain becomes a factor in what you can do and what you cannot comfortably do. For people living with arthritis, there are some lifestyle changes that you must make. These can include avoiding too much activity which overexerts the affected joints, consulting with a doctor about arthritis medications, seeking alternative therapies for arthritis pain relief, and making certain adjustments in your home or work environment.
Many people with arthritis find the simplest tasks arduous. For example, I was an expert knitter and knitted sweaters for my entire family. Unfortunately, I eventually had to give it up entirely because my hands hurt too much from the task. However, sometimes it’s worth giving up a treasured hobby to alleviate pain in the affected joints.
These limitations don’t have to be unfavorable, depending on your mindset. If you have arthritis, you’ll want to make specific lifestyle changes that will help you manage your symptoms and minimize joint damage. For example, staying active, eating well, and limiting stress can help you feel better each day, but these can be enjoyable changes to your life.
You may feel that arthritis has taken over your life, but by working with your doctor and keeping a positive attitude, you can manage your arthritis and get on with living life and doing most of the things you want.
How to manage your pain and symptoms for a better quality of life
- Help your doctor diagnose your pain by reporting the pain accurately. Is it dull, throbbing, constant, or occasional? Tingling? These factors help the doctor determine if it’s nerve pain or muscle strain, or arthritis.
- Maintaining healthy habits will reduce your pain levels. For example, if you are exercising, you’ll be getting better sleep. Being well-rested helps with pain levels. In addition, eating well enables you to maintain a healthy weight which keeps the pressure off your joints. You get the idea!
- Your emotional response to pain is also essential. If you can stop thinking about it and distract yourself, you are a lot better off than if you focus on it. This is especially important if you are a person who deals with constant pain. Thinking about your pain can lead to a whirlwind of “this will never end” feelings.
- Like most immune response diseases, rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups can be triggered by stress. So put your feet up, grab a good book, and relax–when you can. A robust social system is also crucial for reduced pain. So perhaps call a friend after you finish that chapter.
- Research shows that chronic pain sufferers who smoke suffer more pain than those who don’t. Not only is smoking linked to more pain in arthritis, but it is also a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Exercise is essential for treating Osteoarthritis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, getting 150 min of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week should be your goal. The goal here is to keep your joints lubricated and to strengthen the muscles around the joints.
The Role of Exercise in Treating Arthritis
Keeping active is vital for managing your condition and pain, but exercise is tricky if you have arthritis. Regular, gentle exercise can keep your joints flexible. Staying active can also help you maintain a healthy weight which lessens the strain on your joints. Exercise is also a good stress reliever that helps you manage your disease.
People have found success with some of the following activities:
- Water aerobics
- Gentle weight training
- Tai Chi
- Balance exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Aerobic or cardio exercises
The most important when starting an exercise program when you have arthritis is to talk to your doctor. Then you need to listen to your body. When it’s time to rest, rest. Is your exercise program ultimately making you feel energized? Or is it tearing you down? If it’s too much, try for something a step-down. Try and progress, but if you’re not getting better, then it might be time to stop. Make sure you take the time to stretch before and after your exercise.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends your exercise program have four parts:
- First, strengthening exercises to build muscles around the joints and ease the stress on them (can you do this for fingers?).
- Range-of-motion exercises or stretching to help reduce stiffness and to keep your joints moving.
- Balance exercises. This helps strengthen the small muscles around the knees and ankles and helps prevent falls.
- Aerobics or cardio because you still need to keep your heart in shape. This will also keep your stamina up and extra weight off.
Find what’s suitable for your body. If something is making an attack worse, stop doing it. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you design an arthritis-friendly workout routine.
Arthritis is a condition that affects the entire body, so getting enough rest or taking time to relax can help your arthritis stay at manageable levels. Since stress can trigger an attack, relaxation is essential. You can help avoid stress by planning your day isn’t too hectic and keeping a journal or writing what you’re grateful for every day.
Some relaxation techniques you might want to try include :
- Deep breathing — Breathe deeply and exhale slowly. Concentrate on how your breath feels as it moves through your nose, throat, and lungs.
- Meditation — Sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus on either the rhythm of your breath or a word (such as “one” or “relax”). If your thoughts start racing, or focus on your pain, think instead of a calming word or image.
- Therapeutic touch — Place your hand on the part of your body that’s in pain and imagine warm healing light is soothing you. Ask for divine help if it feels right to you.
- Visualization — Get comfortable and close your eyes. Think about what calms you, such as a place
Joint pain and swelling might make it challenging to perform some of the tasks you used to perform without a thought. If that’s the case, it might be time for a bit of help. Bluebird Health has Home Care Services that can assist with everything from dressing to meal preparation and light housekeeping. Check out the
If you need more skilled help, Bluebird Health has Home Health staff who can come to you. Physical therapists, professional nurses, etc. Nurses can bring infusion therapy right to your front door.
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