One of the hardest parts about being diagnosed with a chronic condition is the knowledge that there is rarely a cure. And, these diseases usually get worse over time. Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States, affecting over 54 million Americans. It’s also the leading cause of disability. And, although arthritis is associated with age, the disease can strike at any time. In this post, we share tips on how to manage your arthritis symptoms.
Receiving the Arthritis Diagnosis
If you received an arthritis diagnosis, chances are you went to your doctor describing joint pain. You may have also mentioned noticing certain changes, such as a weakening grip or swelling in your joints. Even if you suspected you had arthritis, hearing the words can be tough.
One thing that helps is learning all you can about your condition. Start by asking your doctor what kind of arthritis you have. There are literally dozens of diseases that affect the joints, all of them flying under the name “arthritis.” The most common is osteoarthritis, affecting around half of all arthritis sufferers, which is around 27 million people in the United States. A distant second is rheumatoid, which begins as young as 30 and affects around 1.5 million Americans.
A great place to begin is the Arthritis Foundation website, which is loaded with information. Learning all you can about your condition helps restore that feeling of being in control. And, it can help you make the lifestyle changes necessary to managing your symptoms.
How Can You Manage Arthritis Symptoms?
Since there is no arthritis cure (yet), the best you can do right now is manage your symptoms. The most common arthritis symptom is joint pain, but symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Some patients also complain of depression, which may be related to chronic pain but also to the fact that you may no longer be able to participate in activities you once enjoyed. Ask your doctor about this, as many treatments for depression also help relieve arthritis pain.
The following tips are designed to help you manage your arthritis symptoms.
1. Be more physically active
Daily moderate exercise goes a long way toward alleviating your symptoms. Start by getting your doctor’s approval, as well as his or her suggestions on the types of exercises that are best for your current health levels. The goal is at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, which is 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week.
Moderate exercise means that you raise your heart rate and breathe a little harder, but can still hold a conversation. Some ideas include:
- A walking program
- Low-impact aerobics
- Water aerobics
- Riding a bicycle
In addition, consider range-of-motion exercises, which your doctor can walk you through the first time. Strength training and stretching are also good, because they help build up the muscles that surround your joints.
Exercises to avoid
Not all exercises are good for arthritis patients. Avoid repetitive and high-impact activities, as these may damage your joints. Examples include:
- High-impact aerobics
Still aren’t sure where to begin? Check out these recommendations from the CDC, specifically for arthritis patients.
Pain management medications
Ask your doctor to recommend some over-the-counter (OTC) pain remedies. Ibuprofen helps reduce inflammation and aspirin helps fight pain. There are also topical ointments that offer more immediate, localized pain relief. Usually, you can combine the two – topical ointment for quick relief and your OTC remedy for longer lasting pain management.
If you’re worried you’re too reliant on pain medication, talk to your doctor. There’s a fine line to walk between over-medicating and the grin-and-bear-it approach. Your condition may require daily medication.
A healthy mind and body
Managing a chronic condition can be incredibly stressful. The following relaxation techniques are intended to help you manage both your pain and emotions. They include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Writing in a journal
Of course, any activity that helps you relax is a good one.
You might also consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which may help you deal with any negative thoughts or feelings brought on by your diagnosis. It combines talk therapy with behavior modification.
Many patients have also enjoyed success with alternative treatments such as massage and acupuncture to help manage their symptoms. You might also try hot/cold therapy. For quick pain relief, try heating pads (limit to 20 minutes) and hot baths or showers. Also, a cold pack on sore muscles after your workout helps reduce inflammation.
Finally, if the negative thoughts are threatening to take over, distract yourself. Talk a walk around the block, pop in an exercise DVD, watch a standup special. Anything that takes your mind off of arthritis helps.
Arthritis and Medicare
Many arthritis patients are on Medicare. If that’s true for you, you might consider Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Services benefit. It’s available to all Part B beneficiaries who have two or more chronic conditions. After arthritis, the most common chronic conditions are asthma, hypertension, diabetes, COPD, and osteoporosis.
This program helps you coordinate care for your chronic conditions between your primary provider, specialists, pharmacy, and any healthcare facilities you use. In addition, it offers counseling and education for managing your conditions, including diet and exercise changes that may help. When it comes to your health, you can never have too many people on your side.