Tips to reduce your chances of developing arthritis
Roughly 54 million people have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Getting arthritis diagnosed and learning strategies to reduce its impact can make living with the condition more manageable. Arthritis is a general term referring to many rheumatic diseases that cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and other connective tissues. More than 100 types of joint diseases can affect supporting structures such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and other parts of the body.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is a common condition of aging. Osteoarthritis results from the breakdown of cartilage in the joints and the subsequent growth of bone spurs that become inflamed. Degeneration of cartilage may lead to a total loss of the cartilage cushion between the joints, often affecting the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees. People with osteoarthritis usually experience joint pain and limited movement.
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If you have pain, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek medical advice. Only a trained medical professional can tell if you have arthritis. Describe your symptoms in detail, so your health care provider can provide an accurate diagnosis. Ask for a specific diagnosis on which type of arthritis you have, since there are more than 100 different types of arthritis.
There is no single treatment program that applies to all people with arthritis. Treatment plans include various medications for pain relief (depending on the type and severity of symptoms), rest and relaxation, proper diet, and instruction on the proper use of joints, as well as other pain relief methods, such as acupuncture. Depending on the patient’s specific condition, additional treatment recommendations may include the use of heat and cold; joint protection; use of assistive devices, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and hydrotherapy or massage therapy.
Exercise helps lessen pain, increase the range of movement, reduce fatigue and feel better overall. Your health care provider, a physical therapist, or another trained health professional can teach range-of-motion and strengthening exercises that are good for arthritis. Exercising in the water can build strength and increase the range of motion, while the water’s buoyancy reduces wear and tear on achy joints.
Every extra pound you carry around translates into added stress on your knees and hips. Excess weight can mean more pain, no matter which form of arthritis you have. It can also contribute to and aggravate osteoarthritis while increasing your risk of gout.
A warm bath before bed can relieve muscle tension, ease aching joints and help you get a good night’s sleep. The benefits of massage vary from person to person, but may provide decreased pain and increased circulation, energy and flexibility. Early treatment can often mean less joint damage and less pain. Your provider might recommend a combination of treatments, such as medication, weight management, and exercise, use of heat or cold, and methods to protect your joints from further damage.
In recent years the FDA has approved a number of new drugs for different types of arthritis. If your current arthritis medication isn’t working as well as you’d like, ask your provider if there are newer treatment options. If other treatment options haven’t helped, your provider may recommend surgery, especially if you’re having difficulty performing everyday tasks. Surgery can smooth out and reposition bones, replace arthritic joints and remove loose pieces of bone or cartilage from joints.
To reduce your chances of developing arthritis:
- Maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke.
- Do regular, gentle exercise, including walking, stretching or yoga.
- Avoid repetitive motions and risky physical activities that can contribute to joint injury, especially after age 40.
Molly Yatso Butz is the foundation development coordinator for Aurora Health Care in Oshkosh and Green Bay.
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