Arthritis has many forms, many causes, many therapies and affects everyone from children to the elderly. The Arthritis Foundation reports the number of Americans suffering from arthritis is over 50 million and predicts this number will continue to grow.
Arthritis is a blanket term covering over 100 joint diseases. Each has disease has individual characteristics, yet most share the common symptoms of joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue. In many instances, the symptoms of arthritis closely mimic the symptoms of many other diseases, making accurate diagnosis difficult.
Treatment varies depending on the type of arthritis, yet healthy lifestyle changes have a positive impact on all forms of the disease. These choices can help control inflammation, pain, and fatigue while improving your overall health.
Inflammation has been targeted and explored as the underlying cause of many of the chronic diseases affecting individuals today. Some, though not all, types of arthritis are the result of misquided inflammation that attacks the joints and connective tissue. Examples of inflammatory arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Many foods contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce this chronic inflammation. These foods include fatty fish, olive oil, pineapple, blueberries, apples, and green leafy vegetables as well as spices such as ginger and turmeric. Planning your menu and preparing your own meals gives you the opportunity to incorporate these foods into a nutrient-dense, healthy meal plan.
Excess weight creates excess strain on the joints, especially the back, hips, and knees. Losing weight if needed and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pressure on the joints and lessen pain.
Joint pain and inflammation often make exercise seem impossible, yet a healthy, efficient fitness program is an important component of managing arthritis. Exercise aids in weight loss and helps prevent weight gain, improves range of motion, reduces fatigue, and strengthens the muscles that support the joint. In fact, exercise is considered to be the number one non-drug treatment option for those afflicted with osteoarthritis.
Strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and balance and range of motion movements all aid in supporting the joints, improving overall health, and reducing pain. Non-impact cardiovascular exercise, restorative yoga, and water fitness classes may be more tolerable during a flare-up.
Need some help developing a fitness program? I can help! Contact me for more information.
Exercise is clearly an important component of your arthritis management plan, but will offer few benefits if you spend the rest of your day sedentary. Physical activity, including household chores, gardening, and walking your dog is essential for overall good health. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of Type II diabetes, and many other chronic conditions.
Sadly, many people spend their days commuting to work to sit at a desk all day. At the end of their day, they commute home, sit down for dinner, watch TV, then go to bed with very little physical activity in their day. Finding ways to be more physically active throughout the day will improve circulation, aid in keeping the muscles supporting your joints more flexible, and help to relieve tension thereby reducing pain.
Learning to manage stress can also result in a reduction in pain. Chronic stress elevates the levels of stress hormones in the body, and your muscles react by remaining in an almost constant state of tension. The muscles remain partially contracted and aren't give any time to rest. No wonder they feel sore!
Meditation, relaxing music, reading a book, or engaging in a favorite hobby are simple ways to manage stress.
Remember, often times we cannot control the stress around us, but we can control our reaction to it. A traffic jam, illness in your family, or job insecurity are issues you may have no power to change, but you can choose how you deal with these things. For instance, rather than flying into a fit of road rage while stuck in a traffic jam, acknowledge there is nothing you can do to change the situation, and use the time to listen to your favorite music. Your mind will relax, your body will relax and those stress hormones will remain regulated.
Stress management can also improve your sleep quality. Stress and anxiety can trigger sleep disturbances or exacerbate existing sleep problems. Stress, sleep disturbances, and pain seem to form an interrelated cycle; meaning an increase in one of the factors (such as stress), triggers an increase in the other two (sleep disturbance and pain). Stopping this cycle can be difficult. Fortunately, just as each factor can negatively impact the others, the same cycle can also work in a positive direction. For example, learning to manage your stress response may allow you to sleep more soundly, which may reduce pain.
A good night's sleep is important, but so is resting throughout the day. Taking a relaxing break between activities gives your muscles and your mind a chance to rest and recharge. Oftentimes, those who suffer from pain tend to "overdo it" during periods when pain is lessened. Pushing yourself too far may trigger that pain cycle, resulting in sore, inflamed joints that might leave you sidelined for a few days. Rather than suffering a setback, learn to take breaks and pace yourself by allowing your body time to rest and recover.
Few people consider dehydration as a cause of pain, but much research has concluded that even slight dehydration can trigger muscle pain and cramps. This is evident in athletes who may cramp up during a competition on a hot day, but occurs less obviously when a body is under a state of mild dehydration.
Many have heard that our bodies are approximately 2/3 water. More specifically, muscle tissue and cartilage each are composed of approximately 60-70% water. Imagine a chronically dehydrated body - all body functions suffer, including the cushioning properties of cartilage in the joints. Proper hydration is also critical for circulating nutrients to the muscles and removing waste out of the tissues.
Will any of these tips put an end to your arthritis pain? Maybe, maybe not. Everyone has different triggers. However, taking these steps can reduce your pain, possibly reducing your reliance on pain medications and the side effects that come with them.
Most importantly, reducing your pain will improve your daily life; you will be able to enjoy favorite activities, your mood will improve, and you will just feel better. And, as a bonus, you will also improve your overall health.
You deserve to feel better - take steps today to manage your pain and live a better, healthier life!
Better Life, Better Health, Better You!