10 Ways to Manage Arthritis

Take charge, live well

There's no cure for most types of arthritis, but there are plenty of effective ways to live—and live well—if you have any form of the disease. Start by setting reasonable goals: reducing joint pain and other arthritis symptoms, regaining and maintaining joint function and mobility, slowing the progression of the disease.

Next, determine the measures most likely to be effective for you, keeping in mind some may not yield dramatic results, but when implemented along with other tactics will contribute to bigger-picture improvements in your overall health and well-being.

Man stretching with trainer
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#1 - Take Your Medication

If you take prescription drugs for arthritis, it goes without saying they won't work unless you take them as directed by your doctor. Of course, it's only human to miss a once in awhile, but as long as you get back on track right away, this should not be a problem.

However, if forgetting to take your arthritis medication is a common issue for you, find ways to remind yourself. Put an alarm on your phone, download an app, or strategically place your pill sorter on the kitchen counter next to the coffee machine or tea kettle, your toothbrush or even the dog's leash—whichever you head to first in the mornings.

Sometimes it can be tempting to stop taking a prescribed medication because of side effects or other concerns. It's legitimate to not want to swallow a pill that causes you to feel bad, but chances are you have other options. Many people try several different drugs before they find the one that works best for them. Rather than quick taking a drug, pick up the phone and call your doctor. They will be able to suggest other drugs you can try that may be just as effective without being unpleasant.

#2 - Follow a Healthy, Anti-inflammatory Diet

For people with arthritis—especially inflammatory types—following some simple dietary rules may help alleviate symptoms. Some foods are believed to increase inflammation and should be avoided, while others are thought to reduce inflammation and may be effective as a regular dietary fixture.

Plenty of books and websites are out there to help you with this, but not all are based on the latest evidence-based knowledge. Your doctor can guide you to one that's likely to be safe and effective. If you have trouble making dietary changes, a session with a nutritionist can help.

Once you've chosen a diet, it's all about trial and error, to see if any of the changes make a difference.

#3 - Get Moving

It may seem counterintuitive that physical activity can help ease achy joints, but there is plenty of research to support the effectiveness of regular exercise for managing arthritis.

In addition to strengthening the muscles that support the joints, exercise offers other benefits that can improve quality of life for people with arthritis:

  • Strengthens bones
  • Boosts energy
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Improves overall wellness

If you're new to exercise or it's been a while since you last worked out, rest assured there's no need to commit to a brutal, high-intensity fitness routine. With your doctor's OK and guidance, you should be able to find an activity that's low impact and in sync with your fitness level.

This could be classes at a local health club, sessions with a personal trainer with expertise in working with people with arthritis, or a free-to-stream online workout. Swimming and aquatic fitness classes are especially good options if you have access to a pool.

#4 - Get Quality Sleep

Sleep problems are a common issue for people with arthritis, but they often are not dealt with medically. Instead sleep issues are regarded as inevitable, something that just goes with the territory and must be lived with.

In fact, there are plenty of options for improving sleep if you have arthritis. This is another thing to bring up with your doctor so you can be evaluated for sleep disorders or perhaps find a sleep aid or new pain treatment that allows you to sleep better.

#5 - Protect Your Joints

Body mechanics—the way a person moves—can have a great deal of impact on joint pain and injury risk associated with arthritis. It is important to be aware of your body mechanics in order to reduce discomfort and protect your joints. Be mindful of of these principles of joint protection:

  • Maintaining proper posture while standing, sitting, and walking
  • Focusing on the ergonomics of your work space
  • Using assistive devices when necessary
  • Getting adequate rest in relation to activity
  • Losing excess weight that can burden your joints

#6 - Lower Your Stress Level

Stress can be a trigger for certain types of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. Although a connection between stress and rheumatoid arthritis has not been proven with research, many people with the disease are able to point to a stressful event in their lives that occurred within months of their initial symptoms.

However, it is accepted that stress can provoke a flare-up (an event in which symptoms are especially severe), so it's important to be attentive to the effect of stress and minimize it as much as possible.

#7 - Ask for Help

Physical limitations and functional limitations are part of living with arthritis. Arthritis will likely make usual daily activities, such as household chores, grocery shopping, and yard work more difficult. Those limitations are hard to deal with.

If that becomes the case for you, don't hesitate to ask friends and family members to lend a hand when you need it, even if it's hard to do so. If you don't have such a support system, your doctor may be able to point you in the direction social services and community organizations that can help.

#8 - Say "Yes" to Something Every Day

Arthritis can enter your life and disrupt normalcy. If the disease progresses and worsens, you naturally may start to focus on what you can't do rather than what you can do. It's as important to fight this as it is to fight the physical aspects of the disease.

Catch yourself as you are about to say "no" to doing something and switch it up by saying "yes" instead" Yes, you will go for that walk (get your exercise)! Yes, you will call your friend and make a lunch date (fight the isolation)! Yes, you will get out to observe nature (rejuvenate and refresh by looking at the stars or mountains or birds)! Even if it's in a small way, consciously step away from the pain somehow—and do it every day.

#9 - Say "No" to Something Every Day

Part of learning to live well with arthritis has to do with balance, meaning you have to know how to pace yourself and not overdo it. Physical limitations are real and you must learn to respect that and the limitations it imposes.

It's not only okay for you to say "no" sometimes, it is necessary. Understanding your reality and self care are important in the fight against arthritis.

#10 - Assess, Re-Assess, Repeat

Recognize your ongoing struggles and which aspects of your life with arthritis need more attention. Is your pain not adequately controlled? Are you depressed? Are you isolated and lonely? Are you having trouble keeping up with your work and household responsibilities?

Your doctor can be your first point of contact in trying to solve your problems. While they can't solve your every problem, they can guide or refer you to people who can help. Pursue that help and don't fall into the trap of thinking you're in this alone. Work on open communication and perseverance so your health and quality of life are as good as they can be.

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  2. Rice DB, Mehta S, Serrato J, et al. Stress in patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis compared to chronic painRehabil Psychol. 2017;62(4):571-579. doi:10.1037/rep0000103