Self Care for Arthritis

If you are being treated for arthritis:

  • Learn as much as you can about what type of arthritis you have and how the disease affects you.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Exercise appropriately to feel better, to extend your movement, and to increase your strength.
  • Protect your joints by using your stronger joints to carry out tasks, by avoiding stress on joints affected by arthritis, and by using assistive devices to make daily life easier.
  • If you are overweight, losing weight will take some of the stress off your joints.
  • Your doctor cannot make the pain go away completely but can help you with ways to reduce joint pain. Ask for help with pain management if you feel your current treatment is not adequately addressing your pain.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear when it comes to “miracle treatments” or “cures” for arthritis. If an advertised remedy sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check with your doctor before spending your money or potentially risking your health.

Coping With Arthritis

Using heat and cold

One way to get short-term pain relief is to apply heat or cold to the aching joint. The decision to use either heat or cold for arthritis pain depends on what’s causing your pain and how well you respond to each method. You should discuss this with your doctor or physical therapist before deciding whether this will work for you. Applying heat relaxes muscles and helps to alleviate aches due in part to muscle tension. It also stimulates blood circulation, which helps irritated tissues heal. In contrast, application of something cold to a joint numbs the area and thus reduces pain.

Reducing pain by reducing stress

Stress can be caused not only by troublesome situations, but also by happy yet demanding occasions, such as weddings, or by a common ailment like a bad cold. When you can, eliminate causes of stress. For example, get a flu shot to reduce your chances of getting the flu, or leave work before or after rush hour. Other causes of stress can’t be avoided. In these cases, relaxation techniques may help.

Preventing pain by protecting your joints

Joint protection strategies can help you minimize or avoid pain caused by overusing a joint. When a joint is more painful than usual, take that as a signal you have overdone it, and next time you’re in the same situation, look for another way to get your task done or ask for help. Stand or sit up straight to keep your joints in optimal positions. To avoid stiffness, don’t stay in one position too long before getting up and gently stretching. Use your stronger and larger joints for weight-bearing tasks. If you have to carry an object, use your forearm rather than putting all the weight on your fingertips. Cut back on prolonged activities that you know are going to put too much stress on your joints, or take more frequent rests.

Assistive devices

There are many devices that can make ordinary tasks easier and help you avoid putting stress on your joints. These devices can be purchased at medical or home-health supply stores, or in some cases made at home. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for more information about what types of assistive devices are available or how to obtain them. There are also changes you can make around the home, such as replacing hard-to-turn knobs on faucets and doors with levers.

Treatment for Arthritis

Treatment of all forms of arthritis focuses on:

  • Reducing pain.
  • Slowing the progress of the disease (there is no cure).
  • Restoring mobility of the joints.

The three basic techniques for treatment are:

Medications. These include anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling, drugs to reduce pain, and drugs that help the functioning of the joints.

Exercise. Whether done by the patient alone or with the help of a physical therapist, exercise maintains strength and functioning in the joints. Becoming inactive because of arthritis can actually make it worse.

Surgery. If a joint has been damaged to the point where it no longer functions or causes constant pain, it may be replaced.