Coping With Arthritis

Reviewed Jul 31, 2017

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Summary

Coping tools:

  • Smart exercise
  • Pain management
  • Ergonomic aids

Many diseases go by the label “arthritis,” but they have at least a couple of things in common. They all affect the body’s joints—with pain, stiffness, or fatigue. And, because of that, they pose the same type of lifestyle challenge. The freedom of movement that you once may have taken for granted is no longer a given. You have to work for it, often painfully.

But the effort is worth it. The more you move, in ways that build strength and flexibility, the more effectively you’re fighting back against arthritis.

Smart exercise is one of the keys to coping with arthritis. A physical therapist may be able to teach you an exercise routine aimed at increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles which support the inflamed joints. This can alleviate joint stress and thereby reduce pain. In dealing with the disease you will also need to learn about pain management, body mechanics, and the products designed to ease the physical stress involved in the tasks of daily living.

Here are some tips from the experts, along with a brief description of what happens to your body when you have arthritis.

Behind those aches and pains

Arthritis literally means “inflammation of the joint,” but not all diseases called arthritis fit this description. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most destructive form, is an inflammation—specifically, of the lining of the joint. Its symptoms are swelling and pain, usually in joints on both sides of the body (it’s “symmetrical,” in medical terms). But osteoarthritis, the other most common form (most everyone gets it to some degree as they age) is simply a wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of bones. The causes and treatment of  these two types of arthritis differ, but certain general rules apply in managing both of them.

Exercise wisely and well

The pain in your joints seems to be saying, “don’t move.” But researchers have found that exercise may slow the progress of arthritis. Movement that strengthens muscles and makes joints more flexible keeps arthritis from robbing you of physical function. “The most important thing for anyone with arthritis is to stay active,” says Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director of a Portsmorth, NH-based integrated health practice. In their book The Arthritis Helpbook, Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH, and James F. Fries, MD, say, “Joints should be exercised through their full range of motion several times a day” in cases of osteoarthritis.

Exercise may also keep joints healthier as a byproduct of good overall fitness. Robert J. Kaplan, MD, with the Arthritis Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, says there’s “some evidence to suggest that maintaining good cardiovascular fitness ... tends to retard osteoarthritis.” By engaging in fitness exercise training, Kaplan says, “you’re providing better circulation to joints” to “keep them in better health long-term.”

With rheumatoid arthritis, finding the proper level of exercise may not be easy to work out. As Lorig and Fries note, this is not a disease you should try to manage without the help of a doctor. In general, they say, you need to find a balance between exercising too much (this makes the inflammation worse) and moving too little, which makes tendons weaker and bones softer. “Moderation is the basic principle,” they say.

For any kind of arthritis, experts advise exercise that avoids stress and strain on joints. Swimming is much better, for instance, than running.

Re-engineer your tasks and get the right tools

Managing arthritis should make you something of an expert in the science of ergonomics, or making the work fit the worker. You can avoid much pain and give yourself more freedom by learning new ways to do common chores. This can be as simple as holding shopping bags at the bottom rather than by the handle, pushing a spray bottle with the palm of your hand rather than a finger, or using a shoulder strap to carry a briefcase. In these and many other cases, as shown by Lorig and Fries in their book, the idea is to distribute a load over a stronger joint or joints or a larger surface area.

If you’re having trouble at work because of arthritis, McLellan says, consult with someone at the workplace who’s responsible for ergonomics, safety, and dealing with physical disabilities. Even fairly small firms have a safety officer, he says. Larger ones have occupational health nurses or physicians. You may also ask your own physician to arrange a consultation with a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Finally, you should check out the products designed to make daily living easier for those with arthritis. “There are catalogs of ergonomic aids,” McLellan says. “If you’re not already getting them, talk to your physician” or physical/occupational therapist. The Arthritis Helpbook has a list.

Manage the problems that lead to pain

Pain is common in arthritis, of course, but it doesn’t always stem directly from inflammation and damage in and around the joints. That may be the most obvious cause, but there can be others, such as muscle weakness and tension, lack of sleep, and emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Pain killing drugs may still be needed, but you should also learn the value of relaxation techniques, massage, simple physical treatments using heat or cold, and that old standby, exercise (which helps lift your spirits as well as flexing your muscles and joints).

Be patient and let your plan work

You can slow the progress of arthritis by adopting a management plan (incorporating tips we describe here, plus other advice from a doctor or therapist). But it takes patience to stick with a plan and wait for results.

As with any long-term goal, you can make the journey easier by breaking it up into shorter-term objectives. Liza Leal, MD, a pain-management specialist in Houston, TX, says she came down with rheumatoid arthritis at 25, eight years ago, and spent three years in a wheelchair. Now she says she is able to ski and play two 18-hole rounds of golf a week. A big part of her management plan was to lose weight, with a goal of 52 pounds in a year. To make that task less daunting, she broke it down into 52 goals of one pound a week. “You make a short-term goal to reach a long-term goal,” she says—and “you do not allow yourself to be let down.”

Resource

Arthritis Foundation
www.arthritis.org

By Tom Gray
Source: Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director, Equinox Health and Healing, Exeter Health and Healing, Portsmouth, NH; Robert J. Kaplan, MD, Staff Physician, Arthritis Center, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; Liza Leal, MD, Senior Administrator, Suchowiecky Center, Houston, TX
Reviewed by Lily Awad, MD, Associate Medical Director, Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership

Summary

Coping tools:

  • Smart exercise
  • Pain management
  • Ergonomic aids

Many diseases go by the label “arthritis,” but they have at least a couple of things in common. They all affect the body’s joints—with pain, stiffness, or fatigue. And, because of that, they pose the same type of lifestyle challenge. The freedom of movement that you once may have taken for granted is no longer a given. You have to work for it, often painfully.

But the effort is worth it. The more you move, in ways that build strength and flexibility, the more effectively you’re fighting back against arthritis.

Smart exercise is one of the keys to coping with arthritis. A physical therapist may be able to teach you an exercise routine aimed at increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles which support the inflamed joints. This can alleviate joint stress and thereby reduce pain. In dealing with the disease you will also need to learn about pain management, body mechanics, and the products designed to ease the physical stress involved in the tasks of daily living.

Here are some tips from the experts, along with a brief description of what happens to your body when you have arthritis.

Behind those aches and pains

Arthritis literally means “inflammation of the joint,” but not all diseases called arthritis fit this description. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most destructive form, is an inflammation—specifically, of the lining of the joint. Its symptoms are swelling and pain, usually in joints on both sides of the body (it’s “symmetrical,” in medical terms). But osteoarthritis, the other most common form (most everyone gets it to some degree as they age) is simply a wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of bones. The causes and treatment of  these two types of arthritis differ, but certain general rules apply in managing both of them.

Exercise wisely and well

The pain in your joints seems to be saying, “don’t move.” But researchers have found that exercise may slow the progress of arthritis. Movement that strengthens muscles and makes joints more flexible keeps arthritis from robbing you of physical function. “The most important thing for anyone with arthritis is to stay active,” says Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director of a Portsmorth, NH-based integrated health practice. In their book The Arthritis Helpbook, Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH, and James F. Fries, MD, say, “Joints should be exercised through their full range of motion several times a day” in cases of osteoarthritis.

Exercise may also keep joints healthier as a byproduct of good overall fitness. Robert J. Kaplan, MD, with the Arthritis Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, says there’s “some evidence to suggest that maintaining good cardiovascular fitness ... tends to retard osteoarthritis.” By engaging in fitness exercise training, Kaplan says, “you’re providing better circulation to joints” to “keep them in better health long-term.”

With rheumatoid arthritis, finding the proper level of exercise may not be easy to work out. As Lorig and Fries note, this is not a disease you should try to manage without the help of a doctor. In general, they say, you need to find a balance between exercising too much (this makes the inflammation worse) and moving too little, which makes tendons weaker and bones softer. “Moderation is the basic principle,” they say.

For any kind of arthritis, experts advise exercise that avoids stress and strain on joints. Swimming is much better, for instance, than running.

Re-engineer your tasks and get the right tools

Managing arthritis should make you something of an expert in the science of ergonomics, or making the work fit the worker. You can avoid much pain and give yourself more freedom by learning new ways to do common chores. This can be as simple as holding shopping bags at the bottom rather than by the handle, pushing a spray bottle with the palm of your hand rather than a finger, or using a shoulder strap to carry a briefcase. In these and many other cases, as shown by Lorig and Fries in their book, the idea is to distribute a load over a stronger joint or joints or a larger surface area.

If you’re having trouble at work because of arthritis, McLellan says, consult with someone at the workplace who’s responsible for ergonomics, safety, and dealing with physical disabilities. Even fairly small firms have a safety officer, he says. Larger ones have occupational health nurses or physicians. You may also ask your own physician to arrange a consultation with a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Finally, you should check out the products designed to make daily living easier for those with arthritis. “There are catalogs of ergonomic aids,” McLellan says. “If you’re not already getting them, talk to your physician” or physical/occupational therapist. The Arthritis Helpbook has a list.

Manage the problems that lead to pain

Pain is common in arthritis, of course, but it doesn’t always stem directly from inflammation and damage in and around the joints. That may be the most obvious cause, but there can be others, such as muscle weakness and tension, lack of sleep, and emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Pain killing drugs may still be needed, but you should also learn the value of relaxation techniques, massage, simple physical treatments using heat or cold, and that old standby, exercise (which helps lift your spirits as well as flexing your muscles and joints).

Be patient and let your plan work

You can slow the progress of arthritis by adopting a management plan (incorporating tips we describe here, plus other advice from a doctor or therapist). But it takes patience to stick with a plan and wait for results.

As with any long-term goal, you can make the journey easier by breaking it up into shorter-term objectives. Liza Leal, MD, a pain-management specialist in Houston, TX, says she came down with rheumatoid arthritis at 25, eight years ago, and spent three years in a wheelchair. Now she says she is able to ski and play two 18-hole rounds of golf a week. A big part of her management plan was to lose weight, with a goal of 52 pounds in a year. To make that task less daunting, she broke it down into 52 goals of one pound a week. “You make a short-term goal to reach a long-term goal,” she says—and “you do not allow yourself to be let down.”

Resource

Arthritis Foundation
www.arthritis.org

By Tom Gray
Source: Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director, Equinox Health and Healing, Exeter Health and Healing, Portsmouth, NH; Robert J. Kaplan, MD, Staff Physician, Arthritis Center, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; Liza Leal, MD, Senior Administrator, Suchowiecky Center, Houston, TX
Reviewed by Lily Awad, MD, Associate Medical Director, Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership

Summary

Coping tools:

  • Smart exercise
  • Pain management
  • Ergonomic aids

Many diseases go by the label “arthritis,” but they have at least a couple of things in common. They all affect the body’s joints—with pain, stiffness, or fatigue. And, because of that, they pose the same type of lifestyle challenge. The freedom of movement that you once may have taken for granted is no longer a given. You have to work for it, often painfully.

But the effort is worth it. The more you move, in ways that build strength and flexibility, the more effectively you’re fighting back against arthritis.

Smart exercise is one of the keys to coping with arthritis. A physical therapist may be able to teach you an exercise routine aimed at increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles which support the inflamed joints. This can alleviate joint stress and thereby reduce pain. In dealing with the disease you will also need to learn about pain management, body mechanics, and the products designed to ease the physical stress involved in the tasks of daily living.

Here are some tips from the experts, along with a brief description of what happens to your body when you have arthritis.

Behind those aches and pains

Arthritis literally means “inflammation of the joint,” but not all diseases called arthritis fit this description. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most destructive form, is an inflammation—specifically, of the lining of the joint. Its symptoms are swelling and pain, usually in joints on both sides of the body (it’s “symmetrical,” in medical terms). But osteoarthritis, the other most common form (most everyone gets it to some degree as they age) is simply a wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of bones. The causes and treatment of  these two types of arthritis differ, but certain general rules apply in managing both of them.

Exercise wisely and well

The pain in your joints seems to be saying, “don’t move.” But researchers have found that exercise may slow the progress of arthritis. Movement that strengthens muscles and makes joints more flexible keeps arthritis from robbing you of physical function. “The most important thing for anyone with arthritis is to stay active,” says Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director of a Portsmorth, NH-based integrated health practice. In their book The Arthritis Helpbook, Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH, and James F. Fries, MD, say, “Joints should be exercised through their full range of motion several times a day” in cases of osteoarthritis.

Exercise may also keep joints healthier as a byproduct of good overall fitness. Robert J. Kaplan, MD, with the Arthritis Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, says there’s “some evidence to suggest that maintaining good cardiovascular fitness ... tends to retard osteoarthritis.” By engaging in fitness exercise training, Kaplan says, “you’re providing better circulation to joints” to “keep them in better health long-term.”

With rheumatoid arthritis, finding the proper level of exercise may not be easy to work out. As Lorig and Fries note, this is not a disease you should try to manage without the help of a doctor. In general, they say, you need to find a balance between exercising too much (this makes the inflammation worse) and moving too little, which makes tendons weaker and bones softer. “Moderation is the basic principle,” they say.

For any kind of arthritis, experts advise exercise that avoids stress and strain on joints. Swimming is much better, for instance, than running.

Re-engineer your tasks and get the right tools

Managing arthritis should make you something of an expert in the science of ergonomics, or making the work fit the worker. You can avoid much pain and give yourself more freedom by learning new ways to do common chores. This can be as simple as holding shopping bags at the bottom rather than by the handle, pushing a spray bottle with the palm of your hand rather than a finger, or using a shoulder strap to carry a briefcase. In these and many other cases, as shown by Lorig and Fries in their book, the idea is to distribute a load over a stronger joint or joints or a larger surface area.

If you’re having trouble at work because of arthritis, McLellan says, consult with someone at the workplace who’s responsible for ergonomics, safety, and dealing with physical disabilities. Even fairly small firms have a safety officer, he says. Larger ones have occupational health nurses or physicians. You may also ask your own physician to arrange a consultation with a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Finally, you should check out the products designed to make daily living easier for those with arthritis. “There are catalogs of ergonomic aids,” McLellan says. “If you’re not already getting them, talk to your physician” or physical/occupational therapist. The Arthritis Helpbook has a list.

Manage the problems that lead to pain

Pain is common in arthritis, of course, but it doesn’t always stem directly from inflammation and damage in and around the joints. That may be the most obvious cause, but there can be others, such as muscle weakness and tension, lack of sleep, and emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Pain killing drugs may still be needed, but you should also learn the value of relaxation techniques, massage, simple physical treatments using heat or cold, and that old standby, exercise (which helps lift your spirits as well as flexing your muscles and joints).

Be patient and let your plan work

You can slow the progress of arthritis by adopting a management plan (incorporating tips we describe here, plus other advice from a doctor or therapist). But it takes patience to stick with a plan and wait for results.

As with any long-term goal, you can make the journey easier by breaking it up into shorter-term objectives. Liza Leal, MD, a pain-management specialist in Houston, TX, says she came down with rheumatoid arthritis at 25, eight years ago, and spent three years in a wheelchair. Now she says she is able to ski and play two 18-hole rounds of golf a week. A big part of her management plan was to lose weight, with a goal of 52 pounds in a year. To make that task less daunting, she broke it down into 52 goals of one pound a week. “You make a short-term goal to reach a long-term goal,” she says—and “you do not allow yourself to be let down.”

Resource

Arthritis Foundation
www.arthritis.org

By Tom Gray
Source: Robert K. McLellan, MD, Medical Director, Equinox Health and Healing, Exeter Health and Healing, Portsmouth, NH; Robert J. Kaplan, MD, Staff Physician, Arthritis Center, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; Liza Leal, MD, Senior Administrator, Suchowiecky Center, Houston, TX
Reviewed by Lily Awad, MD, Associate Medical Director, Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership

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