More than 50 million Americans deal with chronic pain due to arthritis. One in every five adults suffer with the joint swelling, stiffness, and tenderness that is caused by arthritis on a regular basis. Despite how common arthritis may be, many people don’t fully understand exactly what it is or how it is caused.
Arthritis takes on multiple forms: rheumatoid arthritis, where the inflammation lies in the tissues of the joints; osteoarthritis, where cartilage and lubrication fluid is so depleted that the bones grind against each other; and gout, where excessive uric acid forms crystals that accumulate within the joint.
“Simple, everyday tasks, such as stirring a pot of spaghetti or walking up stairs can become increasingly difficult if the pain goes unmanaged,” says Monica Ferguson, MD, an internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Health Medical Group. “Fortunately, there are many ways to handle these aches and pains. It’s easier to do if you remain committed to a personal pain management plan that you develop with your doctor.”
Here are six tips to help reduce the frequency and severity of your arthritis symptoms:
1. Make a List
By identifying and tracking your pain levels, symptoms, medications and food, you may be able to identify certain triggers that cause swelling and pain to increase. It may also be helpful to keep track of the when your flare-ups occur and the types of activities you were engaged in at the time. “The more detailed your information, the more it can benefit you and your primary care provider in determining your pain management needs,” says Dr. Ferguson.
2. Protect Your Joints
There are many different tools that can help protect your joints and muscles at home or while in the workplace. Keyboards that relieve pressure on your joints, padded mats to add comfort while standing for long periods of time, and shoes that aid in releasing tension in the joints are all excellent options. Speak with your doctor regarding these tools, as he or she may have recommendations specific to your case.
3. Warm Up or Cool Down
When you apply ice to your body, it constricts blood vessels, which also restrict the amount of fluid that accumulates in the iced area. This can reduce swelling, which may decrease pain levels due to inflammation. Alternatively, heat opens up blood vessels, which increases blood flow and relaxes muscles. This brings necessary proteins and nutrients to the area that aids in healing the inflamed tissue. Dr. Ferguson says, “You can use ice and heat multiple times a day and in combination with each other, but be sure you leave 20 to 30 minutes of rest time between each 20-minute session.”
4. Don’t Repeat Yourself
Are there are any repetitive motions occurring in the areas you commonly feel pain? Try avoiding those particular motions, or change the way you approach your tasks. For instance, typing at a computer requires repetitive motion in the wrists. A speech-to-text computer program may be helpful in reducing the amount of typing required throughout the day. Everyone is different, so experiment with engaging different muscles and tendons than the ones that contribute to your arthritic symptoms.
5. Walk it Off
Exercising regularly can reduce the strain on your muscles and joints as you maintain a healthy body weight. Low-impact physical activities may reduce pain and fatigue, improve mobility in the joints, relieve stiffness, and strengthen your muscles and bones. Exercising for 30 to 40 minutes, two or three times a week can increase strength and flexibility, and may offer support to joints frequently afflicted by arthritis.
6. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Getting plenty of quality ZZZ’s will allow your body to rest and heal, a vital process in reducing inflammation and pain. “Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening,” says Dr. Ferguson, “and make it a point to do something calming before bedtime, such as a warm bath.”
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.