Managing the Pain of Osteoarthritis
Did you hear a creaking in your joints this morning? Was there stiffness in some part of your body when you first woke up this morning? Does a pain in one of your joints make you think twice before climbing stairs or going for a walk? You may be one of the 6 million Canadians suffering from arthritis. Let’s explore some strategies to manage this condition.
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition affecting one or more joints, and can be diagnosed by your doctor. If you are one of the growing number of Canadians affected by some type of arthritis, the impact on your life can be severe. The first step to managing arthritis is to come up with a care plan with your healthcare provider, tailored to you, which will guide your management and treatment. This plan should include education about the condition, personal goals, and a way to monitor progress.
Self-management of the disease includes the daily actions that you can do to improve your symptoms. You can effectively manage arthritis symptoms by improving your joint health and fitness, protecting your joints by modifying your daily activities, and by committing to the health of your whole body.
Improving Joint Health and Fitness
Many people believe that if an arthritic joint is hurting, the best thing for it is rest. While a swollen, hot, and painful joint may need rest if it has been overused, the best strategy to improve a painful joint is often light activity. Light physical activity will strengthen muscles and increase blood flow to the affected joint. These activities to continue could include gardening, light housework, or walking.
Exercise is physical activity done for the purpose of improving physical fitness. A physiotherapist is a great resource to help design an exercise program suitable for you. Exercise can be tailored to improve fitness in different areas. Some exercises will help with balance and agility, some with range of motion, some with increasing muscle strength, and some with endurance.
Low-impact exercises that have been shown to improve arthritis symptoms without putting extra strain on joints are swimming, tai chi, and yoga. Incorporating some of these into your exercise regimen may be particularly beneficial for arthritis sufferers.
Protecting your Joints
Protecting your joints starts with avoiding heavy lifting or repetitive movements which put too much strain on your joints. If you do some heavier task, follow it up with a lighter task to give your joints a break, and always remember to keep your joints aligned, not using your back to lift anything.
Protecting your joints also means using devices to make activities easier and take the stress off of your joints. These devices could include a raised toilet seat or a grab bar in the bathroom to take the strain off of your hips and knees. You might consider a cane or a walker to improve your stability when getting around. Or maybe a device to help with opening jars or pulling on your socks is all that you require. There are quite a variety of items available to make everyday tasks easier while minimizing pain.
Keeping the Whole Body Healthy
Maintaining a healthy weight will be helpful for limiting the impact of arthritis, as carrying excess weight increases the risk of osteoarthritis in load-bearing joints. Exercise, as well as healthy eating are key components of a weight loss program. To eat well, and provide your body with good nutrition, focus on consuming less sugar, including healthy fats in your diet, and increasing the amounts of fruit and vegetables in the diet.
Supplements to the diet that may be useful include Vitamin D, glucosamine with chondroitin, and turmeric.
Many Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D, and low levels of this vitamin can contribute to worsening arthritis symptoms. For those that are not certain whether or not they fall into this Vitamin D deficient majority, a rapid test for home use is now available to check for Vitamin D deficiency.
Glucosamine with Chondroitin are substances found in healthy joints. Although a clear benefit has not been demonstrated by studies, it is still reasonable to trial this supplement if you are experiencing ongoing joint pain. I usually recommend a trial of six weeks of the supplement, with close monitoring for improvements in pain and range of motion.
Turmeric is the bright yellow spice found often in curry. It has some anti-inflammatory properties, and has been shown to be effective in reducing arthritis symptoms over 8-12 weeks. It can be taken once daily as a supplement in capsule form.
Following these self-management tips will give you a great start to effectively managing arthritis. It is important to ensure that these principles are followed before jumping into medications and other treatment options. I will cover medications and treatment options, including prescription and over-the-counter options, the role of cannabis, and surgery options in the next article.
If you have questions on arthritis which you would like me to discuss in the next article, please contact me.
Mark Mercure is certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in Geriatric Pharmacy and is the owner/manager of Home Health Care Pharmacy. He specializes in providing comprehensive medication reviews which help patients optimize medication use and avoid drug-related issues.