Table of contents
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint, manifesting as swelling, stiffness, redness, and pain. It can affect various joints in the body, including the shoulder, knee, and lower back. This inflammation can result from various causes, including trauma, overuse, or other underlying conditions.
Here are 3 simple things you should do to take control back and start managing your arthritis.
Know Your Disease
Spend the time to understand what type of arthritis you have (e.g. Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia, Gout). Knowledge can give you back a feeling of control over your life and health.
Go see your GP or physio as early as possible to get a proper diagnosis. If untreated, arthritis can get worse so make sure you seek the help of your GP or physio to see what intervention would best suit you. The best way to live well with arthritis is by working closely with your healthcare team (doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists, etc).
Find Out Self-Help Strategies
There are many treatments to relieve pain and stiffness and slow the development of your arthritis. What works for one person may not work for another, so you may have to try different techniques until you find what works best for you.
What can I do to manage my pain?
- Take medicines/supplements wisely. Many different types of medicines /supplements can help control the pain of arthritis. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you understand which medicines/supplements are right for you and how best to use them.
- Exercise. Research has shown that regular appropriate physical activity can help reduce pain. It also keeps your joints moving, strengthens muscles to support your joints, reduces stress and improves sleep. A health professional (eg. a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) or your doctor can help you work out a program suitable for you.
- Use heat and cold. The benefits of heat and cold for arthritis are yet to be proven by research. However these treatments are soothing and safe when used carefully. Applying heat for 15mins relaxes your muscles and stimulates blood circulation. Applying cold treatments, such as ice packs, to the painful area for 15 minutes may be especially useful for hot, swollen joints, such as during a ‘flare-up’. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist whether heat or cold is best for you.
- Massage. There are limited scientific studies that show massage may temporarily improve pain and mobility of joints and muscles. Make sure the massage therapist has experience working with people who have arthritis. You can find a qualified therapist by contacting the Australian Association of Massage Therapists , or the Institute of Registered Myotherapists of Australia.
- Mind techniques. A trained professional, such as a psychologist, can help you learn relaxation and pain coping skills so you can better manage your pain. Some of these techniques include:
Relaxation – Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery (mental pictures) and progressive muscle relaxation, can help you reduce stress and muscle tension.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – It helps you become aware of thoughts that may be exaggerated or unhelpful and then how to respond to them.
Is there a diet to cure arthritis?
There are many myths about food and arthritis . However, no diet has been proven by research to cure arthritis and there is very little scientific evidence that specific foods have an effect on arthritis. Be very cautious of special diets or supplements that claim to cure arthritis.
The best diet for arthritis is a healthy, balanced one to maintain your general health and prevent other medical problems. See your GP or dietitian for further information about what might work for you.
Choosing the right fats
Monounsaturated fat; Omega-3, olive oil, many nuts and seeds
Research suggests that eating foods with healthy fats rather than foods with unhealthy fats may help reduce the symptoms of arthritis. While these effects are modest, healthier fats do not have any serious side effects. They also have other health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease.
Avoid Saturated fat. This is a type of fat that comes mainly from red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels, particularly unhealthy LDL-cholesterol. This type of cholesterol has been linked with increased cartilage damage in people with osteoarthritis. These fats can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Balance and moderation is key when it comes to diet so make sure you speak with your GP or dietitian to work out what this might look like for you.
Does weight affect arthritis?
The simple answer is yes. Extra body weight increases the stress on many joints, particularly the knees, hips and lower back. There is also a clear link between being overweight and an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you are overweight, losing weight will decrease the stress on your joints, reduce pain and make it easier for you to move around.
Research has found that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis as it has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Exercise has shown to improve mobility and flexibility and help decrease pain.
A recent study showed that avoiding exercise will actually accelerate the osteoarthritis process. Not all forms of exercise are appropriate for every kind of arthritis. Before you start to exercise, it is important to speak to your GP and physiotherapist to help you develop a program that will suit your type of arthritis, general health and lifestyle.
Variety is the key
There isn’t just one specific exercise or activity that is recommended for all people with arthritis. Choose an activity that you enjoy and work for your lifestyle. Low-impact exercises, with less weight or force going through your joints, are usually most comfortable when you are starting out.
Examples of low-impact activities include walking, hydrotherapy, swimming, light strength training, Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates.
Keys to successful strength training
It’s all about the intensity! To get the most benefit from strength training, you need to start with close supervision from a qualified health or exercise professional who understands arthritis, ideally a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
Learn the right way to do the exercises to prevent injury. Work with your health professional to figure out how much resistance to add, and how to adapt the exercise if it is too hard. Make sure you are working at the right intensity to get the desired effect.
Keep challenging your muscles by gradually adding more resistance, doing more reps and regularly changing the exercises in your program.
How much should I do and how much is enough?
All adults should be aiming to do at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. You can do 30 minutes continuously or combine several shorter sessions. If you have arthritis and you have not exercised for a while, you may need to start with shorter sessions then build slowly.
Current evidence suggests a minimum of 12 sessions (30-60mins) are needed to see good improvements/outcomes. The longer you continue with a program the better the outcomes.
Many people with arthritis have some amount of pain all the time. This is not a reason to avoid exercise. Listen to your body, working through a little bit of pain is not always a bad thing. A good guide is the ‘two hour pain rule’ – if you have extra or unusual pain for more than two hours after exercising, you’ve done too much.
Build up slowly
When you first start, do less than you think you will be able to manage. If you cope well, do a little bit more next time and keep building up gradually.
Always start your exercise with some gentle movements to warm up your body and your joints. This can help prevent pain and injury during exercise.
Cool down at the end of your session with some gentle movements and stretches. This can help prevent muscle pain and stiffness the next day.
Arthritis can be overwhelming at times so make sure you seek out the necessary health professionals early to ease the burden and help you to better manage your symptoms.
Take control early, adopt a balanced diet, and seek out the right type of exercise program to stay on top of your arthritis today!