Coping with Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most common health conditions in the U.S. with an estimated 54 million American adults suffering from this joint pain condition.  The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis which is a deterioration of joint tissue due to wear and tear, while the second most common form is rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disorder in which your immune system attacks joint tissue.

In total, there are more than a hundred forms of arthritis, but they are all characterized by pain and stiffness in the joints. In most cases, medical experts do not understand the exact biological mechanism underlying these forms of arthritis, and there is almost never a permanent cure. It is, however, possible to manage many of these conditions and slow their progression.

What You Need to Know about Arthritis

Every kind of arthritis is unique, and every patient experiences this condition in their own way.  How the most common symptoms like pain, swelling and stiffness may affect you will depend on many factors including your overall health, how early you were diagnosed, and how well you follow your physician’s orders.

Most people believe that arthritis only afflicts seniors, but there are many forms of arthritis that can develop in people of all ages including children. The auto-immune disease rheumatoid arthritis afflicts almost 300,000 children in the U.S.

Although medical experts do not fully understand the causes of many forms of arthritis, they do recommend that you adhere to a strict treatment program that may provide relief from symptoms and help slow the damage to your joints. The exact nature of this program may depend upon your physician, but it usually involves exercise and a healthy diet. If you do not follow this program, you could lose joint function and lose some ability to perform normal activities like walking, climbing stairs or maintaining personal hygiene.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States.  It costs almost $140 billion annually to treat all of the arthritis patients in the U.S., and the total loss of work productivity to the country every year is $160 billion.

Methods for Managing Arthritis

While there should be medical therapies for your arthritis condition which may include medications, physical therapy or more unconventional treatments like acupuncture, you should also take an active role in caring for your condition. These self-care methods should become almost routine once you determine which ones are most effective for your symptoms. Discuss any of the following therapies with your doctor prior to trying them out; some may not be appropriate for your specific form of arthritis or stage of progression, or your physician may make recommendations to optimize their efficacy.

  • Lose weight—one of the most important things you can do to improve your arthritis condition is to maintain a healthy weight. Less weight will place less strain on key joints like back, hips and knees.  Less fatty tissue should also improve your pain symptoms as fatty tissue has been linked to pain sensitivity. Finally, a healthier weight can lower your risk of other chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure which can aggravate or complicate your arthritis.
  • Exercise regularly—it may be very difficult to motivate yourself to go for a walk or attend a yoga class if you are in pain, but there are some enormous benefits. Vigorous exercise will produce an endorphin boost which will blunt your pain and improve your mood. Regular physical activity will help keep your joints flexible and in good functioning order. It will help keep your weight down and help you sleep better which can prove critical in your fight with chronic pain.
  • Eat right—diet plays a very important role in how your arthritis progresses, so stick to any dietary recommendations that your doctor provides. In general, you should avoid fatty, sugary foods and maintain a diet rich in vegetables, fish and whole grains so that you can lose weight and achieve optimal health. You should include omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid and turmeric for better joint health and less inflammation.
  • Mind-body techniques—it may not appear that your pain is in your head, but you should know that your brain plays a large role in processing pain symptoms. Emotions like anxiety and depression can intensify pain symptoms, so you should do your best to reduce those emotions.  Meditation and relaxation techniques can help maintain emotional health and soothe arthritis pain.
  • Ice and heat—Ice or cold gel packs can help reduce swelling and numb pain but limit applications to less than 20 minutes. You may want to alternate with heat, also for less than 20 minutes, to help loosen up stiff tissue and improve blood flow to joints. If there is swelling in an area, do not use heat.
  • Massage therapy—it may not sound like a therapeutic technique for managing arthritis, but massage is an effective pain management tool for many arthritis patients. The Arthritis Foundation encourages arthritis sufferers to perform self-massage or visit a massage therapist to relieve pain. Manual manipulation of tense muscles and joints can relieve pain and improve range of motion. It may also stimulate production of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers.
  • Sleep well—one of the best things you can do to help fight arthritis pain is to get a good night’s rest. If you have difficulty sleeping, maintain good sleep hygiene including staying on a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulants, and optimizing your sleep environment. If necessary, take any pain medication just before getting into bed. If you are still having sleep issues, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for treatment options.
  • Join a support group—having arthritis is a physical and emotional burden, but you don’t have to shoulder it all on your own. You may find being in the company of others who are in the same situation a valuable resource. Not only can you find emotional and social support, but you may also learn new strategies for living with arthritis.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.