7 ways to live better with arthritis

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Living Well with Osteoarthritis: A guide to keeping your joints healthy
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Get your copy of Living Well with Osteoarthritis: A guide to keeping your joints healthy

This report focuses primarily on osteoarthritis — the most common type of arthritis — which affects 27 million Americans. Many people believe it’s a crippling and inevitable part of growing old. But things are changing. Treatments are better, and plenty of people age well without much arthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, you can take steps to protect your joints, reduce discomfort, and improve mobility — all of which are detailed in this report. If you don't have osteoarthritis, the report offers strategies for preventing it.

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Living with arthritis can be disruptive and disconcerting. The pain and stiffness can make it difficult to perform the daily tasks most people take for granted. Even things like putting on socks or cooking dinner can be exhausting. Therefore, if you have arthritis, it is important to take especially good care of yourself — to relieve pain, improve function, and cope with difficult emotions. In fact, the American College of Rheumatology recommends not only medication but also nondrug treatments for people with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. These methods include weight loss, physical therapy, and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and massage.

It makes sense that eating healthful foods, shedding pounds if you are overweight, strengthening your muscles, and learning to move your joints safely are helpful regardless of which form of arthritis you have and which joints are affected. Further, paying attention to diet, weight, and exercise is important for preventing heart disease, which has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Following are some do-it-yourself strategies and therapies that can help you conserve energy, protect your joints, accomplish daily tasks more easily, and adapt to lifestyle disruptions.

  1. Keep moving. Avoid holding one position for too long. When working at a desk, for example, get up and stretch every 15 minutes. Do the same while sitting at home reading or watching television.
  2. Avoid stress. Avoid positions or movements that put extra stress on joints. For example, opening a tight lid can be difficult if you have hand arthritis. One solution is to set the jar on a cloth, lean on the jar with your palm, and turn the lid using a shoulder motion. Better yet, purchase a wall-mounted jar opener that grips the lid, leaving both hands free to turn the jar.
  3. Discover your strength. Use your strongest joints and muscles. To protect finger and wrist joints, push open heavy doors with the side of the arm or shoulder. To reduce hip or knee stress on stairs, lead with the stronger leg going up and the weaker leg going down.
  4. Plan ahead. Simplify life as much as possible. Eliminate unnecessary activities (for example, buy clothing that doesn't need ironing). Organize work and storage areas; store frequently used items within easy reach. Keep duplicate household items in several places; for example, stock the kitchen and all bathrooms with cleaning supplies.
  5. Use labor-saving items and adaptive aids. In the kitchen, use electric can openers and mixers. In the bathroom, cut down on scrubbing by using automatic toilet bowl cleaners and, in showers or tubs, spray-on mildew remover. Other devices on the market can help you avoid unnecessary bending, stooping, or reaching.
  6. Make home modifications. Using casters on furniture can make housecleaning easier. A grab bar mounted over the tub is a necessity for many people, as is a suction mat in the tub to prevent falls. Putting a bathing stool in the tub or shower is a good idea for people who have arthritis in the legs.
  7. Ask for help. Maintaining independence is essential to self-esteem, but independence at all costs is a recipe for disaster. Achieve a balance by educating family members and friends about the disease and the limitations it imposes and enlisting their support. Ask for help with specific tasks.