According to the CDC, one in four adults has doctor-diagnosed arthritis1 which is a blanket term used to refer to more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect the joints, the tissues surrounding the joints, and other connective tissue. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both cause stiff and painful joints, however, osteoarthritis often occurs later in life after years of wear and tear on the cartilage that cushions your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about one-tenth as many people as osteoarthrits2, can occur at any age and is an autoimmune disease, where the body's immune system attacks the joints.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that worsens over time (damage to joints cannot be reversed), however, its symptoms can usually be managed. Staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and receiving certain treatments might slow the progression of the disease and help lessen the chronic pain.
If the condition is left untreated, the joint pain and stiffness can become severe enough to cause significant disability among adults. The reality is, adults with arthritis are 2.5 times more likely to have two or more falls and suffer a fall injury in a 12-month period compared with adults without arthritis.3 What can you do to prevent this? There are many treatments and lifestyle changes that can make living with osteoarthritis manageable.
Treatments and Lifestyle Changes
- Exercise: walking, bicycling, swimming, or water aerobics are all low-impact activities that help strengthen muscles and bones around your joints making them more stable.
- Lose weight: losing weight will decrease the pressure on weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees, and in turn, decrease pain and wear and tear on those joints.
- Movement therapies: participating in tai chi or yoga, allows you to gently stretch your muscles while incorporating breathing techniques to help reduce stress. Physical therapy will help strengthen muscles and increase flexibility, while occupational therapy may help you learn new ways to do everyday tasks with less stress on your painful joints.
- Apply cold and hot compresses: applying cold to aching joints helps reduce swelling while heat helps increase blood flow and relax muscles. Some people find transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) very effective; this uses a low-voltage electrical current to relieve pain.
- Take medication: taking acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provides pain relief and reduces inflammation. Taking dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help cushion joints. Always check with your doctor before taking any new medications.
- Use of assistive devices: utilizing a cane or walker will take weight off your knee or hip as you walk; and utilizing a shower chair will do the same when standing in the shower for prolonged periods. There are tools you can purchase that make it easier to grab items; even utilizing an electric can opener can make a life task less painful. When it comes to the outdoors, if you have long distances to go, the use of a walker, scooter, or wheelchair may be beneficial to reduce the stress on your joints.
- Modifications to your home: installing devices such as grab bars and rails, ramps, or even a stairlift can make travel throughout your home easier and safer. Grab bars installed in the shower provide you support and lessen the strain on unstable joints, ramps can ease the transitions over thresholds or steps in your home, and a stairlift can make moving between floors easily accessible if your joints no longer support going up and downstairs.
- Wear braces or inserts: wearing back or knee braces can help support painful joints and ease discomfort. Wearing shoe inserts can also alleviate pain.
- Consider shots or injections: after consulting with your physician, cortisone shots or lubrication injections may be recommended for pain relief and additional cushioning of the joints.
- Undergo surgery: when treatment options no longer provide enough pain relief or you can no longer move comfortably or safely, your doctor may recommend surgery. This could include bone realignment or partial or complete joint replacements.
Lifestyle changes can give you pain relief and less stiffness, more energy, and a positive outlook on daily living. Don’t let osteoarthrosis impact the quality of your life. Consult with your primary care physician, rheumatologist, occupational or physical therapist, or orthopedic surgeon to learn all you can about your condition and how to manage it. Please also visit the Arthritis Foundation for more information on treatments, healthy living, and medical guidance.