As our bodies age, the cartilage in joints can become worn down. This cartilage is slippery and helps cushion joints, making movement smooth and easy. When cartilage begins to wear away, movement can become painful. This type of joint damage, caused by years of slow wear-and-tear, is called osteoarthritis.
There are many different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most widespread. It most often affects older individuals, but it’s not uncommon for young athletes to develop osteoarthritis as a result of playing through injuries.
No matter whether it’s the result of aging, past injuries, or a combination thereof, the symptoms of osteoarthritis are similar. People with osteoarthritis often experience pain in the knees, low back, hips, neck, or shoulders. Joint stiffness after being immobile for an extended period is also common. Affected joints might also swell or become tender to the touch, and these joints might also produce a crunching feeling or sound.
Living with osteoarthritis can be challenging sometimes, but there are many ways to manage the discomfort. Here are our top ten ways to treat and manage osteoarthritis.
1. Eat healthy foods
Try to emphasize unprocessed foods, and eat from all the food groups. Some particularly healthy foods include:
- Lean proteins, especially fish or fat-free dairy
- Dark or leafy greens, such as broccoli, kale, and spinach
- Fresh fruits, particularly berries and cherries
- Fresh vegetables, like carrots and peppers
- Healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), from nuts, fish, or olive oil
- Spices, especially turmeric and ginger
2. Avoid inflammatory foods
Certain foods encourage painful inflammation. Avoiding these foods can reduce swelling and discomfort. Some common inflammatory foods include:
- Fatty proteins
- Prepackaged and processed foods
- Carbohydrates, especially “white” carbs like white bread, white rice, and white pasta
- Palm oil, found in foods like margarine or prepackaged snacks
3. Exercise regularly
Keeping active can help you maintain a healthy weight, which will reduce strain on painful joints. Exercising will also help you maintain strong bones and strengthen supporting muscles. You’ll also have more energy during the day and sleep better at night if you do some exercise each day.
However, make sure you choose your exercises carefully, since the wrong kinds of activity might worsen your pain. Choose low-impact exercises, like walking, swimming, yoga, or biking. Some light weight-training can also be beneficial. To get the most out of your workout, try to focus on slowly strengthening the muscles around the joints affected by osteoarthritis. Ask your physician, a physical therapist, or a personal trainer for ideas if you’re at a loss. Above all, remember that the saying “no pain, no gain” is not true. If something hurts, don’t do it.
4. Get enough sleep
Sleep can help you feel better overall, and it will give you more energy to exercise. Also, sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk of depression, disability, and worsened pain. If you begin to experience one of these symptoms, it can in turn affect your quality of sleep; this can quickly become a vicious cycle. For example, a poor night’s sleep can worsen your osteoarthritis pain, which can interfere with your sleep, which can then further worsen your pain. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try to improve your sleep habits. If you still can’t get a good night’s rest, talk to your physician.
5. Take advantage of at-home, drug-free treatments
No matter what you do, you’ll have good days and bad days. Be sure that you have a few drug-free ways to lessen your pain at home. This way, you won’t have to worry about interactions with any other medications you take. A few options include hand-held massagers or massage pillows, analgesic creams, or at-home transcutaneous electrical nervous stimulation (TENS) devices. Do keep in mind, though, that certain products (like pain-relieving creams or patches) are contraindicated if you use heart medications, so make sure you check warning labels.
6. Explore alternative treatments
Alternative treatments and therapies may help you manage your osteoarthritis pain. Massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic adjustment might all provide you with some relief. These types of therapies can also reduce your stress, which can in turn reduce your pain. Point out to the practitioner that you have osteoarthritis, as well as which joints are affected and any medications you’re taking, before you undergo any treatment.
7. Talk to your physician about vitamins and supplements
Some supplements, like glucosamine, have shown promise as a potential way to help with osteoarthritis. Your physician will know which types of supplements might be beneficial for you, as well as which might interact with your medications. Additionally, discuss your diet with your physician. If you’re unable to get enough of certain nutrients – like calcium, vitamin K, or vitamin D – from your diet alone, your physician might suggest some supplemental vitamins.
8. Follow your physician’s directions
Simple as it sounds, this is an important step in taking care of yourself. If your physician prescribes a medication, take it as prescribed. If he or she prescribes physical therapy or suggests a referral to a specialist, follow through. If your physician prescribes or suggests something you don’t agree with, discuss it until you’ve changed your mind or come up with an agreeable alternative.
9. Have back-up medications on hand for painful days
Drug-free pain management tools and therapies are great, but sometimes you need something stronger. Know what you’re allowed to take, and keep it on-hand – even if you don’t think you’ll need it any time soon. This might mean asking your physician which over-the-counter pain medications are okay to take with your prescription medications. If your pain is more severe, it might mean keeping a prescription painkiller on-hand for as-needed relief.
10. Discuss any changing or worsening pain with your physician
In some cases, stronger interventional therapies might be the best way to treat your osteoarthritis pain. Nerve block injections, radiofrequency ablation, and other interventional treatments can all provide significant relief. For some people, surgery might be the best possible option. When it comes to prescription painkillers, interventional treatments, or surgery, the first step is letting your physician know about your pain.
What ways have you found to manage your osteoarthritis?
Photo by Amanda Patsopoulou via Flickr