Seven ways to manage your arthritis symptoms


By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor

Nearly 60 million adults in the US suffer from arthritis, a number that is expected to rise as the country’s population ages.
Nearly 60 million adults in the US suffer from arthritis, a number that is expected to rise as the country’s population ages.

REGION – There is unfortunately no cure for arthritis, but it can be successfully treated, and the symptoms managed. The term arthritis actually refers to a wide variety of ailments (over 100) related to the body’s joints and surrounding tissues, and other connective tissues. Symptoms usually include joint pain and stiffness. 

Nearly 60 million adults in the US suffer from arthritis, a number that is expected to rise as the country’s population ages. Arthritis is the third highest cause of worker disability, after back and neck problems and mental health issues.

Here are seven ways to help manage your arthritis symptoms:

1) Consult with your doctor

This should be your starting point if you have not already done it. While you can do a lot of self-management of symptoms, you need to start with a solid medical diagnosis. A physical exam and questions from your doctor can help determine the cause of your joint pain, since there are so many types of arthritis, and the extent of any damage. Your doctor can help you come up with a treatment plan, which will likely include some of the same suggestions included here. You may also be referred to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis and other related ailments.

2) Stay active with the right kinds of exercise

All exercise is not created equal. While being active is one of the best things you can do to decrease your symptoms, the wrong types of exercise can actually make things worse. You want to do exercise that strengthens the muscles that support your joints but doesn’t damage the joints. Do stretches, and low-impact cardio work such as bike riding, walking, or swimming or pool exercise classes. Stay away from running, anything that involves jumping, high-impact aerobics, and high amounts of repetitive motion. Besides being good for your joints, exercise will improve your mental state and help with weight control.

3) Weight loss

Excess weight puts additional stress on joints. If you are overweight or obese, try to get down to a healthier weight for your height and body type. It doesn’t have to be a drastic weight loss; losing even 10 to 15 pounds can reduce your arthritis symptoms.

4) What you eat

Arthritis is not inevitable with aging, according to Dr. Barry Taylor, a naturopathic doctor in Weston. Photo/Submitted
Arthritis is not inevitable with aging, according to Dr. Barry Taylor, a naturopathic doctor in Weston.

Diet can be very helpful in managing arthritis symptoms. Many of the foods to minimize or avoid are the ones you’ve heard about before to improve your overall health. They include foods with added sugars, like candy and sweet baked goods, and sugary soft drinks, processed foods, saturated and trans fats, and alcohol. Foods that will help with arthritis symptoms include green vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and brussels sprouts, whole grains, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which help with inflammation.

Dr. Barry Taylor, a naturopathic doctor in Weston, had this to say about diet. “One of the biggest things is to minimize animal food and eat more vegetables. Minimize acid foods and maximize alkaline foods,” he emphasized. “Drink minimal coffee and consume minimal sugar and alcohol.”

Also, stay hydrated. Try to drink two quarts of water a day. Joint cartilage is mostly water, and when it’s dehydrated it breaks down more easily and makes injury more likely.

5) Medications and supplements

The most common medications used to treat minor arthritis pain and swelling are over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Cortisone shots by a doctor are sometimes used to reduce pain and inflammation, but they are used sparingly because they can reduce bone density and increase the risk of fractures.

The Arthritis Foundation mentions several supplements on its website that appear to offer benefits for arthritis sufferers. Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, often found in curries, acts as an anti-inflammatory. One study of several hundred people with knee osteoarthritis found that 1500 milligrams daily of curcumin extract was as effective as 1200 milligrams a day of ibuprofen.

The polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in fish, which are available in pill form as a supplement known as fish oil, have also been cited as helpful for arthritis due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

“Alfalfa supplements alkalize the body and are very inexpensive,” added Taylor. “They also seem to really help.”

6) Therapies

Traditional physical therapy, usually thought of in relation to recovering from an injury can also be helpful for treating arthritis symptoms. PT can help increase range of motion, improve muscle strength to support the joints, and help target the source of joint pain. Other helpful therapies include hydrotherapy, such as hot tubs, massage, and acupuncture.

7) Adaptive devices

There are also a wide variety of adaptive devices and equipment, much of it inexpensive, that can make everyday tasks easier for someone with arthritis. These range from canes for walking, to grab bars in the bathroom, jar openers and long-handled grippers to retrieve items stored high or low, to wide key holders to make it easier to turn a car ignition. There’s likely something for nearly any task that is difficult or painful for an arthritis sufferer if you do your research.

It’s not inevitable

Are there factors besides aging itself that increase your risk of developing arthritis? “As people get older, many develop poor nutrition habits and move less,” explained Taylor. “People tend to get entrenched in their mind and their body follows.”

Taylor stressed that misconceptions about arthritis make some people believe that it’s a natural part of aging. “It’s not inevitable,” said the 71-year-old, especially if you eat right and stay physically active. “It doesn’t come with Social Security.”



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