This article is written by Carolyn Ridland from Caregiver Connection.
Arthritis is a chronic health condition that affects millions of men and women in the United States. It occurs when one or more of the joints become inflamed and cause pain and other symptoms. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
If arthritis symptoms are not managed well, the condition can interfere with your quality of life and may even lead to reduced mobility. For these reasons, it is important to understand how arthritis affects the body and what you can do to protect your health.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative disc disease, occurs due to “wear and tear” on the soft tissues surrounding the joints. It is caused by the breakdown of the cartilage, a rubbery tissue that provides a cushion between the joints. As this rubbery tissue wears away, you may feel pain and stiffness in the joints. Osteoarthritis is common in people over 65 and is more chronic than rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis:
- Joint pain that gets worse with activities
- Stiffness of joints in the knee, hips, or lower back
- Reduced range of motion
- Cracking sound when bending a joint
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that results in the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints. Inflammation develops in the lining of the joints and results in pain and other arthritis symptoms. This type of arthritis is common in people between 30 and 60.
If not treated and managed properly, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can eventually damage joint cartilage or bones. In chronic cases, joints can become unstable or deformed or the patient may lose mobility.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
- Joint pain or stiffness that lasts for more than 6 weeks
- Swelling or tenderness in the joints
- Stiffness is felt more in the morning
- Small joints in the hand, e.g., wrists, or feet, e.g., ankles, are affected
7 Tips for Managing Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis is usually treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription painkillers, and genetically engineered drugs. When traditional medication fails, surgery may become necessary and may include joint repair, joint fusion, or joint replacement. Making certain lifestyle changes can help manage and improve arthritis symptoms and avoid loss of mobility or surgery.
1. Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
Being overweight places excess weight on joints and increases pain and other arthritis symptoms. A healthy diet helps maintain health and can help you shed excess weight. A healthy weight reduces the chance of joint injury or further joint damage. Ensure your diet includes anti-inflammatory foods and foods rich in antioxidants. Some examples are cabbage, garlic, turmeric, and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are shown to reduce pain and stiffness in the joints.
2. Balance your activities with rest
While staying active help keep joints flexible and functioning well, rest enough is also important to prevent arthritis flare-ups. Daily activities such as walking or low-impact exercises can help joints remain lubricated and reduce friction that leads to pain. Remaining active helps with blood circulation and can reduce the risk of medical conditions such as heart disease. However, when joints are swollen or inflamed, resting is necessary to relieve the symptoms.
3. Use heat and cold therapies
Hot or cold treatments can be used to manage arthritis symptoms such as pain, swelling, and fluid build up in the tissues. Hot and cold temperatures help reduce pain and stiffness and improve blood circulation. You can apply a heat pad or cold pack to the affected joint for about 20 minutes 2 to 3 times a day. You could also take a long, warm bath or shower to ease stiffness. At nights, you can use an electric blanket.
4. Try natural or alternative remedies
Non-medication remedies such as massages, yoga, or acupuncture may help temporarily relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. Acupuncture is a Chinese medicine that involves placing fine needles in certain areas of the skin to reduce pain and restore the body’s natural balance. Stretch exercises during yoga help blood to circulate and can relieve stress and fatigue on the body.
5. Get physical therapy
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Physical therapy involves coordinated exercises to strengthen muscles and joints as well as improve range of motion. It teaches proper body posture and body mechanics to improve arthritis symptoms. Therapy is done by a physical therapist to ensure the exercises are done safely and effectively without aggravating joints or causing further damage to soft tissue.
6. Use assistive devices
Using assistive devices is a good way to support weakened joints. These devices include walking canes, walkers, braces, splints, shoe inserts, and raised toilet seats. Your physical therapist may recommend one or more of these items which can improve your mobility and ability to perform daily tasks.
7. Have a Positive Attitude
A positive mindset can make a huge difference in your outlook on arthritis. Studies show that a positive attitude has the capacity to change the way your body perceives pain and can promote natural healing. You can choose to be stressed over your condition or you can opt to embrace it as a part of life and do all you can to improve your health.
Author Bio: Carolyn Ridland is the founder of CaregiverConnection. Caregiver Connection emerged from a place of real love and compassion. We understand the struggle that exists when you care deeply about your loved ones, but you’re faced with decisions you never wanted to make. Our main message is that nobody should have to face these times alone.
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