If you feel pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints or have trouble moving around, you may suffer from arthritis. Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in America, affecting more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children, according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF).
Fortunately, people with arthritis can live active, productive lives. There are effective and proven self-management tactics that preserve joint function, mobility, and improve quality of life for arthritis sufferers that don’t involve medications or surgery.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease, but an informal way of referring to general joint pain or joint disease. It can come in different forms and affect people in different ways. But the common thread through most forms of arthritis is found in the inflammation and stiffness of the joints.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, according to the AF.
The most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis. An estimated 27 million Americans age 25 and older have it, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). This condition usually comes with age, affecting over 33% of people over the age of 65, but can also be caused by an injury to a joint, according to the CDC.
Self-management tactics are essential to combating arthritis symptoms at any age.
Natural Ways to Self-Manage Mild to Moderate Arthritis
The AF and Department of Health and Human Services offer tips on how to manage mild to moderate degenerative arthritis. These can help control pain and improve joint function. Keep in mind these are preventative tips too!
- Regular physical activity. Moving all of your joints will help you strengthen the muscles around the achy joint for added support. Healthcare professionals should help you pinpoint the right kind of activities , and avoid high-impact aerobics that involve jumping and running such as tennis. Going for a walk every day can potentially help, too. But make sure you speak to your doctor first.
- Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Try to keep your weight down. Excess pounds can make your knees and hips hurt. Adding foods with anti-inflammatory properties that are rich in antioxidants can help control inflammation. It’s especially important for gout to eat a healthful diet that is low in sugar, alcohol, and purines, which are commonly found in smoked fishes.
- Balancing activity with rest. Rest is important when your disease is active and your joints feel painful, swollen or stiff. Lighten your schedule and obligations and ask for help when you need to. Pace yourself throughout your day and take breaks to conserve energy.
- Using hot and cold therapies. Heat relaxes muscles and increases circulation in specific areas, while cold reduces swelling and numbs the nerves that detect pain. Try taking a warm shower in the morning and using frozen veggies as an ice pack on an achy area after a workout. Research has shown cryotherapy might also be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep habits can worsen arthritis pain and fatigue, but there are things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Make your bedroom dark, cool and quiet, avoid caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evening.
- Using assistive devices. This can include investing in a cane, walker, or even installing handles up the staircases in your home that ease pressure put on stressed and inflamed joints.
- Massage. Studies show massage may improve pain and stiffness. Make sure your massage therapist knows you have arthritis and where. There are many different massage techniques to choose from depending on your type of arthritis. Read up on which one could be best for you according to the AF here.
- Acupuncture. Some people experience pain relief through acupuncture treatments. This is when a trained acupuncturist inserts hair-thin needles at specific points on your body. According to a NIH review of trials in 2010, Acupuncture is considered a potentially useful treatment for osteoarthritis.
- Avoid smoking. Toxins in smoke cause stress on connective tissue, which can lead to worse joint problems.
Have you tried some or all of these natural management methods and still find that the pain is too much to handle? Touch base with your doctor. Medication or surgery may be a management strategy to consider depending on what type of arthritis you suffer from.
No single test can diagnose arthritis, though doctors do use tests to help confirm a diagnosis or rule out other conditions that could be causing symptoms. Most doctors use a combination of testing that commonly include clinical history, physical examination, X-rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs), and even blood tests to rule out other causes of symptoms. Joint aspirations can also be used for diagnoses which involves drawing fluid from the joint through a needle and examining the fluid under a microscope, according to the NIAMS.
These tests can be given or scheduled by your general practitioner. It’s also important to note only a doctor can tell if you have arthritis or a related condition and what to do about it.
Finding a Doctor Who Specializes in Arthritis
Still have questions and not sure who to ask? Your general practitioner should be able to help, but you can also work with a doctor who specializes in arthritis to safely lessen the pain and stiffness, preventing more serious damage to your joints.
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has a database that offers anyone with an internet connection the ability to find a Rheumatologist based on where they live and how far they are willing to travel. And its free! Check out the ACR informational resource for patients and caregivers here. The AF also offers a free local office directory by state.