Living with Arthritis, don’t let it control your life.
Aching joints are no fun, fortunately there are a number of simple ways to better manage the pain and limitations that can be brought on by arthritis. You don’t need to suffer in silence. As the weather gets cooler, now is a good time to make sure you’re doing all you can to best manage this often-debilitating condition.
Types of Arthritis
There are many different types of arthritis, but the most common ones usually only develop in our later years. They include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but psoriatic arthritis, polymyalgia and gout can also be prevalent among ageing adults.
Osteoarthritis is most common, and can appear as early as the age of 40. It usually describes the ‘wear and tear’ in stressed joints like your knees, hips, feet and spine because of a loss of cartilage. Osteoarthritis comes on slowly over months or years and causes pain, but not fatigue or sickness like some other forms of arthritis. It may respond well to heat or cold (you can try which one works for you) and further relief can be provided by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory condition which can develop at any age, but is more common in older people. Your immune system mistakenly targets healthy joint tissue, causing inflammation and damage. Symptoms include pain, tenderness and swelling but it will occur symmetrically, meaning the same joints on both sides of your body will be affected. A wider range of medications are available to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
• Psoriatic Arthritis
This is the third ‘most common’ type of arthritis, but it only affects people who’ve been diagnosed with the skin condition psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis affects both the skin and joints, and can therefore be quite painful to live with. It’s a very inflammatory condition and can ‘flare up’ at different times, swelling the fingers and toes and even discolouring your fingernails.
• Polymyalgia rheumatica
The average age of people who experience an onset of polymyalgia rheumatica is 70. It can be especially debilitating, and symptoms include widespread aching and stiffness in the upper arms, neck, back and thighs. It’s more common in women than men, but can be treated effectively with corticosteroid medications. Polymyalgia is often temporary, but can still last two or three years.
Gout can be very painful, often affecting the smaller joints of the hands or feet. It is sometimes known as ‘rich man’s disease’, ‘the disease of kings’ or even ‘the drinker’s arthritis’ because it can be linked to consumption of alcohol and certain rich foods. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in those smaller joints, and is also linked to kidney problems because uric acid is normally processed by the kidneys. The best way to treat gout is to change your diet, in consultation with medical advice.
See Your GP First
Whether you’ve been living with an arthritis diagnosis for years, or you’ve just started to notice pain or changes in your joints, the onset of winter is a good time to speak to your GP about further treatment choices that might be available to you. It’s crucial to know exactly which arthritis you’re living with as some forms of arthritis can worsen in the colder months. Thankfully, medicines and therapies keep changing and improving, and there may be new or better options for you to consider. Your GP is the best person to start with for the latest advice about arthritis, and they may also refer you to an arthritis specialist who can potentially provide even more options.
Choose Your Treatment Plan
Your doctor will help you decide how to best manage your arthritis. This means you can choose your own treatment plan, which might include a mix of lifestyle changes like exercise in partnership with some medications. It’s up to you to decide which options will suit you best.
We all know that exercise is great for your health and certain forms of gentle exercise can help manage arthritis. After all, exercise is good for your heart health, moods, weight management – we may as well add arthritis to the list! Even if your arthritis pain is acute, some light exercise like going for a light walk or a swim – can help you feel better. Swimming in a heated therapy pool is especially good for severe arthritis because it stimulates blood circulation and can ease muscle stiffness, and with little or no impact on sore joints. It can also feel amazing to be buoyant in the water if you’ve been dealing with arthritic pain, and getting moving every day is really key to helping your joints become more flexible.
• Allied Health Therapies
Therapies such as physiotherapy and podiatry can really make a positive difference in the management of arthritis. Your physio can give you a range of special activities to help get sore joints moving, and they can also massage stiff and painful muscles. A podiatrist can help with better shoes or orthotics to take pressure off certain aching joints and make walking easier.
• Good Nutrition
Diet can certainly play a role in the management of some forms of arthritis, and there is much scientific debate that reducing your intake of inflammatory foods can sometimes help. If you know your diet is imbalanced, pay special attention to eating a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fats and see if it helps your symptoms over time. If you’re unsure about what to do with your diet, or you feel that food intolerances could be affecting your arthritis, it might be best to see a dietitian for proper dietary advice.
• Medications and Pain Management
Some doctors specialise in arthritis management, and you can get a referral from your GP. Called rheumatologists, they can prescribe a range of steroidal or non-steroidal medications, depending on your symptoms and pain levels. It’s very important to consider all of the pros and cons of certain medications and their side effects, and always follow the dosage directions exactly. Side effects can worsen if some medications are used for too long, so pay special attention to when you start and how long you are taking them for.
• Adequate Rest
Living with arthritis can sometimes be exhausting because you are dealing with continual pain management. There is little relief at times and arthritis is known to flare up without warning, which is why it’s important to try a variety of management techniques and make sure you get lots of rest. Sleep helps our bodies recover physically and mentally, so make sure you give your body an opportunity to rest and repair. Go to bed at the same time each night and avoid alcohol to get the best night’s sleep that you can.
• Social and Emotional Support
Being positive and remaining active in your friendship and community groups can be just as important as seeing your GP. Your wellbeing is linked to your social connections, so don’t lose touch because of arthritis. Staying connected is crucial, and that includes talking to friends and family about your condition and how it makes you feel. Ask for more support with your arthritis if you need it, especially from your Home Instead CAREGiver. Take the time you need to look after yourself and put plans in place to best manage your arthritis, both now and into the future.