Did you know that approximately 70 million Americans may have arthritis in one form or another, and that you may be one of them? Think there’s nothing you can do about it? Well, here’s some great news! You can act right now to lessen the incidence of arthritis or to reduce the pain and discomfort that typically accompanies the disease. Here are ten simple steps that can improve your health, emotional outlook, and pain level, and generally make it easier to cope with arthritis.
1. Pay attention to symptoms and see your doctor. If you have pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint for more than two weeks, it's time to see your doctor. Only a doctor can tell if it's arthritis. Write down observations and symptoms as they occur. Put them in your purse or wallet before your next doctor’s visit. That way, you’ll have them with you when you see the doctor.
2. Get an accurate diagnosis. “You have arthritis" is not a diagnosis. Ask for a specific diagnosis of the type of arthritis you have. There are more than 100 types, and each one requires different treatments. Getting the right treatment requires getting the right diagnosis.
3. Start early. The earlier, the better. Early diagnosis and treatment can often mean less joint damage and less pain.
4. Avoid Excess Stress on Joints. Exercise to reduce pain and fatigue and to increase range of motion. It relieves stress and can help enable you to maintain your daily activities. Use simple stretching techniques to keep joints and muscles flexible. Exercising in the water can build strength and increase range of motion while the water’s buoyancy reduces wear and tear on sore joints. Use assistive devices to make tasks easier.
5. Watch your weight. Try to maintain the recommended weight for your age and body type. Every extra pound means added stress to your knees and hips. Excess weight can mean more pain, contribute to and aggravate osteoarthritis, and increase your risk of gout. Follow a healthy diet regimen. Research has shown the importance of antioxidants in reducing the risk of osteoarthritis and its progression.
6. Take your medication just as your doctor prescribes. If you’re tempted to stop because you feel it’s not working or you believe it’s causing side effects, call your doctor first. It can take weeks, or even months, for the full benefits of a medication to become apparent, and some side effects ease over time. Stopping a medication abruptly may not only cause you to miss out on its benefits, it can be downright dangerous. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you’re taking, both prescription and over the counter.
7. Protect yourself when you go out into the sun. Some forms of arthritis, as well as certain medications, can leave you more vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays. At a minimum, use sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat for protection.
8. Talk to Someone About Arthritis. Each week, commit to learning something new about arthritis and sharing it with others. Understanding your disease is an important step in managing it. Talk with family, friends, and co-workers. A support group is important and the more they understand about how arthritis affects your life, the more they’ll be able to help you get through the hard times.
9. Relax. Pain can cause both physical and emotional stress. Pain and stress have similar effects on the body, e.g. increased heart rate and blood pressure; fast, shallow breathing; and muscle cramps. Relaxation can help you reverse these effects, give you a sense of well being, and make it easier to manage your pain.
10. Consider taking a nutritional supplement. If your current medication isn’t working as well as you’d like, or if it’s causing unacceptable side effects, ask your doctor about other treatment options. There are several all-natural functional health beverages available that have desirable anti-inflammatory properties. Check them out online.
Of course, there are many other ways to lessen the pain and discomfort of arthritis, but these ten are an excellent place to start. Most importantly, while arthritis may limit some of the things you can do, it doesn't have to control your life. Build your life around wellness, and think of pain as a signal to take positive action to help you manage your condition. Think positively, eat well, and exercise regularly.
Lastly, resolve to enjoy our beautiful world. As the old saying goes, “Live like there’s no tomorrow; love like you’ve never been hurt; dance like no-one is watching.”
Bruce Bailey, Ph.D.