A Look at Arthritis: Understanding, Combating, and Coping
Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.
About 19 years ago, when I discovered the first signs of “Arthur-itis,” I wrote this:
“For years I’ve watched myself become my mother (occasionally a good thing), but last week I was playing around with my rings, minding my own business, when I realized that my knuckles are beginning to resemble Mom’s – knobby! The fingers on my right hand might soon qualify as gnarled.”
Well, nearly 20 years later, good old “Arthur” is a part of my life, and not a particular favorite.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis literally means joint inflammation, and it refers to a group of more than a hundred rheumatic diseases that cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.
There are two major types of arthritis: osteoarthritis (more common) is the result of mechanical wear and tear on joints, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the joints.
More than 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis (one in seven), over 250 million worldwide. Many have chronic pain that limits their daily activity.
How Do I Combat Arthritis?
Time to Exercise
Physicians used to discourage activity for arthritis sufferers, but exercise is helpful. It offers both physical and psychological benefits, including improved health, overall fitness, and better sleep. Now physicians recommend range-of motion and strengthening exercises for arthritis relief.
It is important, though, not to overtax stressed joints, especially during flare-ups. Low impact exercise and stretches are the easiest on arthritic joints: yoga, swimming, or water aerobics. And of course, there’s the added bonus of a jacuzzi or hot bath afterward.
I’m particularly bothered with arthritis in my hands, which is disturbing to a woman who spends hours each day typing and knitting. A friend introduced me to a series of yoga exercises that help alleviate the aching I often experience.
The first one has me spreading my fingers wide, then clenching my fists, with 20 repetitions.
The second exercise is lifting my hand, fingers close but straight, as far up as my wrists will allow, then bending my hand down in the opposite direction. Again, 20 repetitions.
The third is clenched-fist hand circles from the wrist, 20 in each direction. They help. I found a video of a similar set of exercises by Kim McNeil, Yoga for Arthritis.
Try Heat and Cold
Depending on the type of arthritis you deal with, either dry or moist heat or cold packs can offer relief from a flare-up, too. You might start your day with a hot shower and finish it with a warm bath to soothe away the aches, while an ice pack can ease inflammation after exercise.
I’ve noticed that as I get older, I become stiff after sitting or sleeping, and it hurts. Doctors at Johns Hopkins recommend using heat to combat painful stiffness.
Keep an electric blanket on your bed to heat up as you wake in the morning. You may see a significant difference with 10 to 15 minutes of heat. I also like to start my day with a series of stretches and exercises to “get out the kinks.”
Another thing I do daily is take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water. Though there’s little medical evidence of its effectiveness, I swear by it. It certainly can’t hurt, and I’m a firm believer in “whatever works.”
Follow a Healthy Diet
According to Healthline, a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods can help boost your immune system.
A plant-based diet provides antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation, while diets rich in red meats, processed foods, saturated fat, and added sugar and salt may aggravate inflammation, a painful feature of arthritis.
Weight is a big factor in arthritis of the knees, hips, and ankles. If you’re obese, losing weight will reduce the stress on your weight-bearing joints, hopefully improving your mobility and limiting future joint injury.
How Do I Cope with Arthritis Pain?
If you’ve made these lifestyle changes to combat arthritis and still experience pain, you may need to consider medications or surgery.
Take Something for It
Many people in the beginning stages of arthritis manage their illness with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen. Research has shown that turmeric has a mitigating effect on inflammation, easing arthritis pain.
Another effective treatment is an ointment including capsaicin, a compound from chili peppers, and it will provide warmth to soothe joint pain. A number of prescription drugs have been found successful for arthritis. If you are bothered by chronic joint pain, it’s probably time to check with your physician.
Many people find that acupuncture treatments ease the pain of arthritis by rerouting energies and restoring balance in the body. The American Arthritis foundation recommends it as a pain-relief measure.
If you’re plagued with an arthritic joint, you might need surgery. I soldiered through knee pain until it was so excruciating I cried when skiing uphill.
That was it – time for the knee replacement that changed my life. Six years later, my knee supports me without any pain. Sadly, my other knee is starting to complain. This time I won’t postpone surgery quite so long.
I hope these measures help you cope with our less-than-wonderful companion, Arthur-itis.
Do you suffer from arthritis? Which of your joints are the most painful? What do you do about the pain and inflammation? Where do you find pain relief? Have you thought about surgery? Please share your thoughts and concerns and let’s have a discussion.