Arthritis Self-Care: Five Tips to Support Joint Health

It is estimated that one-third of Americans have some type of arthritis. The condition is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

There are over 100 types of arthritis. The most common types are osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, and autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. 

There is no cure for arthritis but patients can manage their symptoms by following their doctor’s treatment plan and practicing good self-care. Ask your doctor about over-the-counter medications that are safe to use for the treatment of arthritis.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Adults over the age of 45 are diagnosed with osteoarthritis more frequently. The repetitive use of joints over a person’s lifetime can wear down the cartilage, the protective tissue around the bones. Bones in affected joints become weaker, connective tissues in the joint deteriorate and inflammation damages the lining of the joint. 

The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain, swelling and stiffness. Severity of symptoms varies but they tend to get worse as a person ages. 

Proactive management of the condition with a patient’s doctor can help the individual manage the symptoms and overcome the challenges caused by arthritis.

What Is Autoimmune or Inflammatory Arthritis?

Autoimmune or inflammatory arthritis is a disease triggered by the patient’s immune system. Essentially, the patient’s overactive immune system attacks their joints. The condition can affect a patient’s whole body, including their eyes, heart and lungs, in addition to their joints. 

The most common type of autoimmune arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. It is more common among adult females but anyone, even young children, can suffer from this autoimmune disease. 

There is no cure for this autoimmune condition, but treatments are available to help minimize pain and stiffness and help slow the progression of the disease. 

Self-Care Tips for People Living with Arthritis

If you or a loved one suffers from a degenerative joint disease, follow these tips to help protect your joints and manage arthritis symptoms. 

Tip #1: Eat a Healthy Diet

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fish is beneficial for patients with arthritis. A wholesome diet helps patients maintain a healthy weight. This is important because as a person’s weight increases, there is more pressure put on joints.

Patients should avoid foods that trigger inflammation, such as processed foods, those high in excess sugars and saturated fats. These foods promote inflammation in the body and can exacerbate joint damage and painful arthritis symptoms. The Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory and full of wholesome options.

Tip #2: Stay Active and Exercise

The old saying, a body in motion stays in motion, is true. It may sound difficult on days when your arthritis pain is high, but moving your body will help pain decrease over time. 

Gentle weight-bearing activities, such as walking, swimming or gardening can help. People with arthritis will experience less pain with consistent movement because their joints are more flexible. 

Planning tasks for times of the day when the patient feels the best, such early in the afternoon if stiffness is a problem in the morning, can help the patient successfully achieve their daily goals. 

Tip #3: Use Assistive Devices as Needed

There are many tools available to help patients with arthritis to lead active and independent lives. For example, a cane might help a patient who needs extra stability when walking. At home, tools to help with opening jars or picking up items from the floor can help you tackle home tasks easier. 

Do not let your arthritis keep you at home. Walkers, scooters and wheelchairs can help when you want to participate in activities that require a lot of walking, such as traveling or visiting an amusement park.

Tip #4: Take Breaks

There will be times when you are experiencing pain or tiredness resulting from arthritis. Other times you may simply need a mental break – a time when you concentrate on the things in life that make you happy. 

You should listen to your mind and body and take breaks to rest when needed. Deep breathing, practicing mindfulness and listening to music can help improve your mood and help you manage pain.

Tip #5: Be Nice to Yourself

Living with a chronic pain condition, such as arthritis, is not easy. Share your feelings with your friends and loved ones. Open communication about how you feel can help others learn how best to support you. 

Some patients have found value in engaging with others who share their same diagnosis. Speaking to someone else who is also experiencing similar challenges can remind you that you are not alone.

Arthritis Care at University Health 

Learn more about arthritis care at University Health and watch the Great Day SA interview with Dr. Katherine Whiteley online.

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