Living With Arthritis

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Arthritis is a chronic disease. Learning how to best manage arthritis is essential. It takes time to find the best combination of medications, treatments, and lifestyle modifications that will allow you to cope with pain and live well with arthritis. The best combination is not exactly the same for every person. But, there are things you do to ensure you are living your best possible life despite having arthritis.

Emotional

When you are living with pain or restrictions to your usual activities, it is natural to have feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness at times. Those are valid reactions and it is normal to feel them.

Do what you can to minimize stress and to avoid negativity. Discover what promotes positivity for you. It will not be the same for everyone. It may be church, music, nature, or something else entirely. When you discover what fuels your positivity, make sure you get enough of it. Cling to those experiences. A positive attitude can carry you through your most difficult times.

If you find that you are dwelling on "why me" or "I can't," it is best to look for adjustments you can make or asking for help. Being sad most days and not taking part in activities you once enjoyed are signs of depression. Talk to your doctor about what you are going through emotionally to see if you need a further workup for depression. This can be treated with talk therapy or medications.

Physical

Don't let pain define your life. Make time for the leisure activities you enjoy. While you may need some modifications at times, you can continue enjoying music, movies, reading, and playing with your pet.

Eat Well

It is a physical challenge to live with chronic pain. Increased fatigue and energy depletion are among the consequences. You should eat a healthful diet to give your body every advantage and restore your energy. While there is still research being done on the effects of diet on inflammation, most of the proposed anti-inflammatory foods are those that should be part of a balanced diet. Avoid foods that you suspect trigger flares.

Lose Excess Weight

Carrying excess weight burdens the joints. The added stress on joints can increase pain. To maintain your ideal weight, watch your calorie intake. If you are overweight or obese, cut daily calories by 500 to lose weight. You should participate in regular physical activity to burn calories as well. It is a common misconception among people with arthritis that they can't do enough to affect their weight. Even small changes are significant. For each pound lost, there is a four-fold reduction in loading forces on your knee as you take a step.

Exercise

As many as one-third of arthritis patients get no exercise. They may think they can't exercise or believe it will exacerbate their arthritis symptoms. In reality, exercise helps maintain joint function, bone strength, and muscle strength. Exercise improves sleep and mood. It also helps with weight management. Any movement is better than no movement. Set realistic goals and build on those goals at a pace that is appropriate for you.

Exercise such as tai chi is easy on the joints and helps maintain balance and flexibility. Walking, cycling, and swimming are good options. Pool exercises are especially joint friendly.

Rest and Sleep Well

While you are encouraged to exercise regularly and to keep moving, you should realize that rest is necessary, too. Resting a painful joint can relieve pain. Your body requires periods of rest in order to recuperate. Prolonged periods of rest can work against you, though, and can actually promote pain and weakness. Just as overdoing activity can increase pain and worsen symptoms, too much rest can have the same effect. Strive for a balance between rest and activity.

Be aware of good sleep habits. Achieving a pattern of sufficient, uninterrupted sleep each night is another important goal.

Social

Help your family and friends understand what is most difficult for you. You may not be able to do everything you could before your arthritis diagnosis. Ask for help when you need it. You may be surprised to discover your family and friends have just been waiting for the request and are happy to lend a hand.

Getting out and socializing or going for a day trip can do wonders for your mood. Visiting or dining with friends will keep you connected. You can also pamper yourself with a trip to the salon, a massage, or a spa treatment.

Local and online support groups can connect you with others who have arthritis. It is good to surround yourself with people who have firsthand experience with what you are going through. Often you will discover new life hacks they use to cope with arthritis.

The Arthritis Foundation has online forums and local Live Yes! Connect Groups for adults. For live support, information, or referrals, call the Arthritis Foundation's 24-hour hotline at 1-844-571-HELP (4357).

Work to establish the best relationship with your doctor. This is very important when you have a chronic disease. You will need open and honest communication with your doctor to get the best guidance and advice.

Practical

According to the CDC, arthritis limits the activities of 22.7 million Americans. Among adults with arthritis, six million are limited in social activities, eight million have difficulty climbing stairs, and 11 million have difficulty walking short distances.

Being organized and planning ahead can help you simplify your tasks and eliminate unneeded steps. This allows you to save time and energy to do the things you enjoy.

Accessibility Solutions

Adjustments and adaptations to your environment may help protect your joints and help reduce pain. It is important for you to make your environment at home and work accessible and comfortable. Simple changes, such as swapping out a chair for one that makes it easier to go from sitting to stand, organizing shelves to keep frequently used items easy to reach, getting a supportive mattress, or purchasing other ergonomic equipment or assistive devices, can make a big difference.

For one of three adults of working age (18-65 years), arthritis can limit the type or amount of work they are able to do. In the workplace, there may be accommodations as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Other adjustments to your work might be a different work schedule or a light-duty position.

Use Adaptive Aids

Look for ways to avoid stress on the joints affected by arthritis. For example, there are jar opening solutions if arthritis in your hands makes that task difficult. Sock aids and long shoehorns can help you put on your socks and shoes if you have difficulty reaching your feet. An occupational therapist can recommend many such items specific to your challenges.

Track Your Symptoms and Treatment

Tracking your symptoms of arthritis in a diary, journal, or app will allow you to contact your doctor swiftly when there is a change. You can also note questions that you want to ask your doctor. Worsening symptoms may indicate that a treatment change should be considered. Early treatment offers the best chance for slowing disease progression.

If you are on multiple medications, set up pill minders or other organizers to ensure you are taking your medications at the right time. If you take any supplements or herbal products, track those as well and be sure you have discussed them with your doctor. Compliance with your treatment plan is critical to managing your condition. Be sure to track when refills are needed and upcoming appointments with your doctor.

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