If you’ve ever seen an ad for an arthritis drug, it probably featured a middle-aged or older adult grasping their hands or a knee while in the middle of doing some activity like gardening or walking up steps.
This is because arthritis is a common condition affecting 58.5 million adults in the U.S. That’s nearly one-quarter of adults. More than half of those with arthritis (57.3%) are between 18 and 64 years old.
It can be painful and in some cases, even debilitating. But it can be controlled, and people manage to live healthy, active lives with the proper diet, exercise, and medication.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define arthritis as the swelling of at least one joint. It can describe more than 100 conditions that affect joints, the tissue around a joint, and other connective tissue. The most common symptoms include joint pain and stiffness.
- Osteoarthritis — This is the most common form of arthritis, occurring most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees.
- Rheumatoid arthritis — Also called RA, this is an autoimmune disease. Your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake.
- Gout — This is a form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints. It can be extremely painful.
- Fibromyalgia — This causes pain all over the body. It can also lead to sleep problems, fatigue, mental, and emotional distress.
- Lupus — This is another autoimmune disease affecting numerous parts of the body because the immune system can’t tell the difference between healthy tissue or bacteria and viruses.
Living with Arthritis
You play an important role in managing your life with arthritis. One way is by learning all you can following diagnosis. It is also important to monitor when and where you feel pain. This will help you and your doctor develop a plan. Make sure to alert your doctor if your pain changes.
It is important to:
- Keep moving — Do gentle stretching each day to take your joints through their full range of motion.
- Use good posture — Work with a physical therapist to learn how to sit, stand, and move correctly.
- Know your limits — Don’t overwork yourself.
- Manage your weight — Small, permanent changes and lead to gradual weight loss, which is important. Excess weight can cause added joint pain and complications.
- Quit smoking — It stresses connective tissues which can cause arthritis pain.
Choose the Right Activities
Movement is important to improving function, mood, and quality of life. At least 30 minutes of moderately-intense exercise a day is a good goal. However, you want to watch what you do. Walking, biking, and swimming are good activities as they don’t put increased stress on your joints.
There are some activities that you should avoid. They include:
- Jumping rope
- High-impact aerobics
Stay away from any activity that involves stressful, repetitive motions.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Feeling pain doing activities that you used to do on a regular basis can be discouraging. It is important not to let those feelings overwhelm you or lead to hopeless thoughts. That will make your pain worse.
Steps you can take include:
- Relaxation therapy — Meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, or journaling are just some of the things you can do to help you relax and ease the pain.
- Hot and cold therapy — Using heating pads, taking hot baths, or hot showers can help relieve pain temporarily. Don’t use heating pads more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid burning yourself. Ice packs can also relieve pain and inflammation.
- Massage therapy — This can help to ease pain and stiffness temporarily. Make sure the therapist knows where arthritis affects you.
- Talk therapy — Combined with behavior modification, this can help to identify and break self-defeating thoughts and activities.
- Acupuncture — Some people find relief through treatment with a trained acupuncturist. It may take several weeks, however, before you notice improvement.
Find Help at AltaMed
If you have pain that you think may be arthritis, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. If you catch it in the early stages, your doctor can suggest some simple lifestyle changes that can keep you moving and feeling healthy for years to come. If you don’t already have a doctor, find your nearest AltaMed location and give them a call.