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Five Things to Know About Arthritis

Evidence-based strategies to manage arthritis!

Arthritis can lead to severe joint pain and limit the activities people do every day. Arthritis is a common health condition and affects 1 in 5 adults (

Tip #1 - Certain risk factors impact your chances of developing arthritis

Certain behaviors or personal characteristics can increase your risk of developing arthritis. Some of these risk factors are modifiable (you can change them) and some are non- modifiable (you can't change them).

Risk factors that you can't control:

  • Genetics or inherited traits.

  • Age.

  • Sex.

Risk factors that are within your control to change include:

  • Extra weight.

  • Joint injury or overuse.

  • Job or occupation.

  • Infection.

  • Smoking.

It can be helpful to go through this list of risk factors and see what you can do now to reduce your risk of arthritis. Some risk factors like joint overuse or your job can be modified with the help of an ergonomics specialist. If you are currently working in a job that requires repetitive movements, you can contact your human resource department to see what ergonomic support they have available.

Tip #2 -Exercise can help manage arthritis

Everything always seems to come back to exercise! Joint-friendly exercises refer to exercises that are gentle on your joints. It is normal to feel some pain and stiffness when you first start an exercise routine; however, if you stick with it - joint-friendly exercise can reduce your pain and improve movement. Joint-friendly exercises can include: walking, dancing, water aerobics, and gardening. It is important to find physical activities that you enjoy and can do without too much strain.  Check out this page from the CDC on physical activity guidelines for arthritis. One thing that is true about exercise: If you stop exercising you will get even more stiff, painful, and weak. Remember "Motion is lotion"!

"Motion is lotion" -Dr. Greg Ford

Tip #3 - Self-management is necessary to manage your arthritis.

Self-management refers to what you do day to day to manage your health. It is the ability to take control of your health by tracking symptoms, making healthy choices, going to appointments with healthcare providers, and seeking help from loved ones or professionals on tasks that are challenging or require expert recommendations ( Sometimes certain symptoms might not be able to be resolved. Self-management also involves learning strategies to help you cope with your symptoms. The CDC has workshops to teach you self-management skills in these areas:

  • Manage pain and other symptoms. (taking your meds on time, joint protection strategies, relaxation/visualization techniques...)

  • Reduce stress.

  • Improve mood. (Depression and anxiety can increase your pain).

  • Communicate better with family, friends, and healthcare providers.

  • Make lifestyle changes about food and physical activity.

Check out this article from the Arthritis Foundation that goes into detail on self-management techniques.

Tip #4 - There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions

Arthritis is not a single disease but an umbrella term that encompasses over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. It is most common in women and is the leading cause of disability in the United States (Arthritis Foundation). The different types of arthritis can present very differently and include the following common forms of arthritis:

  1. Osteoarthritis (OA) - This is the most common and occurs mostly in the hands, spine, hips, and knees.

  2. Autoimmune inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid and Psoriatic arthritis) - Occurs due to an overreactive immune system that attacks joints and tissue in the hands, spine, and feet.

  3. Gout - results from a painful buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. Gout can occur in sudden/intense attacks and tends to target the big toe.

Tip #5 - Joint protection techniques

Joint protection refers to a self-management strategy that includes taking steps to make daily activities easier by reducing the strain on your joints. This strategy takes some consideration. It can be helpful to spend a week taking note of your daily activities and thinking about what activities cause you the most discomfort or difficulty. Many times, we go through our day without really thinking about how certain activities are impacting us. Some examples of joint protection strategies are the following six basic principles:

1. Respect pain

2. Where possible, use larger, stronger joints

3. Reduce the effort and force

4. Find a balance between rest and activity

5. Exercise in a pain-free range

6. Avoid positions of deformity during day-to-day activities

Check out this resource for more information.

Download PDF • 501KB

In closing

If you or a loved one has suffered from arthritis you know that it is not fun! Having joint pain can be debilitating and start the cycle of debility (Pain -move less - get weaker - more pain- increased fall risk- move less ....). It can be hard to break the cycle. If you or a loved one is struggling to manage symptoms of arthritis reach out to your primary care doctor or your OT for guidance. I also HIGHLY recommend you check out this website. This business/website was created by an OT Cheryl Crow who also has RA. She has several amazing resources!

Thank you for reading!

Jenny, OT

Jenny Williams, OTR/L, OTD, CAPS

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