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Nine things you can do to help your arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for joint inflammation. There are more than 120 different kinds of arthritis, with the most common being osteoarthritis. It's often called the “wear and tear” arthritis because it happens when our weight-bearing joints, such as our knees or hips, begin to simply wear out.

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common arthritis that can damage joints so badly that they need to be replaced. This arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body is attacking itself. It will affect more than just the joints.

Sometimes arthritis sets in when you've had a traumatic injury.

Here are the top things that you can do for arthritis:

1. Get the proper diagnosis. Joint pain can be caused by many other things, such as fractures or nerve damage.

2. Exercise. While exercise can sometimes cause discomfort, proper exercise will nourish the cartilage, strengthen the muscles around and ultimately prolong the life of your joints. Check with your physician before starting any exercise program to get guidelines or precautions about what's right for your condition.

3. Modify activities. Using the proper body mechanics can mean less strain on your joints and more effective use of your joints. Here are some examples: 

  • avoid impact-loading activities, such as running
  • practice good posture
  • when traveling or doing sedentary activities, get up and move around every hour or so to avoid stiff joints
  • avoid sitting in low chairs as this can cause stress on the knees when sitting and rising

4. Nutritional supplements. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are both found naturally in cartilage, and many individuals with arthritis will take these two supplements together. Studies have shown glucosamine supplements can be useful in strengthening, repairing and revitalizing cartilage and in reducing pain. Chondriotin acts a sponge for the fluid that makes cartilage more elastic and spongy and may help prevent the breakdown of cartilage. 

Some studies indicate that patients low in vitamins C and D may have higher incidence of arthritis. It is generally recommended that arthritis patients take vitamins regularly.

Calcium is known to help strengthen the bones and can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle because of a loss of tissue. Sometimes osteoporosis is confused with osteoarthritis.

5. Apply heat/cold. Heat and/or cold may be used to decrease pain and to increase flexibility. Cold decreases blood flow and helps relieve joint pain and swelling. Do not apply for more than 15-20 minutes at a time and use a towel or cloth between the ice compress and your skin.

Heat increases blood flow and helps relax muscles. Do not use for more than 20 minutes at a time, unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

HEAT COLD
Use before exercising Use after exercising
Increases circulation Decreases circulation
Improves motion Decreases swelling
Decreases joing aches Reduces pain
Helps you relax Reduces inflammation

6. Use orthotics or supports. Visit with your physician or physical therapist about self-help devices, such as braces, for the feet, knee, hands/wrist or back, hip or knee. To avoid the risk of falls and further injuries, you may require other support devices such as canes, walkers or crutches.

7. Medications. Medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, are important in the treatment of arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) help relieve joint swelling and inflammation. 

If over-the-counter medications are ineffective in reducing the pain, swelling and stiffness, your physician may prescribe a stronger NSAID or another medication.

8. Injections. Cortisone can be injected directed into the joint to relieve swelling. However, most physicians will limit this treatment as it may play a role in weakening tendons or cartilage if used too often.
 
9. Visit with an orthopedic surgeon. Specializing in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, an orthopedic surgeon can discuss whether surgery is an option for you and which type of surgery is best for your condition, whether it be arthroscopic or joint replacement surgery. In arthroscopic surgery, the surgeons will remove or repair damaged tissue to prevent further damage. With joint replacement surgery, your damaged joint is replaced with one made of metal and/or plastic.

About Amy Geiszler-Jones