Osteoarthritis can make your daily activities painful and more difficult. But you don’t have to let pain and sore joints sideline your life or hobbies. While there’s no magic bullet, here are a few simple tricks and adjustments to help you feel better every day when you have OA.
Stay Healthy With OA
- Losing weight . Obesity is a key OA risk factor, especially for arthritis of the knees, hips, and spine. For each extra pound of weight, you add four pounds of pressure on your lower body. Take off 10 pounds and you subtract 40 pounds of impact with each step you take.
- Getting active . Even if you don’t need to lose weight, getting active is the best way to stay active! And if you do need to drop a few pounds, weight loss combined with regular exercise works better than weight loss alone at easing OA pain. Low-impact exercise is very beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. Try walking, biking, or the best of all possible OA workouts: swimming. It’s a no-impact way to work your cardio system and get stronger. Be sure to incorporate some strength training, too. It’s been found to ease arthritis pain by building stronger muscles to support your joints. And flexibility exercises are a must to stay limber and reduce joint stiffness.
- Eating right. A balanced, healthy diet keeps you stronger and more able to handle your day with gusto. Make sure you get plenty of important nutrients like vitamin C and other antioxidants, which may help slow progression of OA.
Ergonomics is the science of how we move, and the way that you move has a big impact on your joints.
- Adjust the way you sit. If you spend a lot of time on the computer, playing games or chatting online, make sure that you have a chair with good back support. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees bent at 90 degrees and the top of the computer screen at eye level. If you can’t get an adjustable chair, use pillows and/or a footstool to put everything in its place.
- Take breaks. If you’re doing repetitive tasks like folding laundry or chopping vegetables, stop and stretch every 15 minutes or so.
- Lighten up -- on the household equipment you use, that is. Get a lighter vacuum or a super-light electric sweeper/mop so that you’re not lifting heavy loads to clean house.
- Use your larger, stronger joints for carrying and moving things. Try pushing rather than pulling, and bend at the knees when lifting so that you can use your legs instead of straining your back.
Find the Right OA Tools
Repetitive motions, stiff postures, and excessive strain can all aggravate osteoarthritis. Fortunately, there are many tools out there to help take the strain out of daily tasks.
- Specialized handles. Many kitchen tasks can be painful for someone with OA, so look for kitchen tools -- such as knives, can openers, with specially designed, larger, padded handles. They make it easier to get a grip without pinching tightly.
- Assistive devices. Just search on “arthritis assistive devices” and you’ll find a host of helpers. Whether you have trouble buttoning shirts, opening doorknobs, gardening, using the TV remote, or reaching for things on high shelves, there’s a tool for you.
- Safety items. One of the biggest risks with osteoarthritis is falling. Consider installing grab bars in your shower or beside your toilet, getting a raised toilet seat, and adding a second banister or other support to your stairs. You can also ask an occupational therapist to do a “safety check” of your home for fall hazards like small area rugs and loose cords.
- Adapt your hobbies. Has OA in your hands or wrists made it hard for you to continue favorite activities like knitting, crocheting or crafting? Ask for help at your local hobby, craft, or fabric store -- often they will have expertise in what kinds of tools and techniques can make these activities easier when you have OA.
Ease OA Pain
Your doctor will recommend the right pain reliever for your arthritis, but there are pain relief methods you can try at home, too.
- Get a massage from a certified massage therapist. This relaxing treatment may help decrease your pain and stiffness.
- Use cold packs to decrease the pain and swelling surrounding inflamed joints. You can buy them at the drugstore.
- Heat can also help with arthritis pain and joint stiffness: try a long soak in a warm tub or a hot shower.
- Try over-the-counter medications. Sometimes a simple over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug or cream is enough to ease a spasm of pain. Be sure to talk with your doctor about all the medications that you take, including supplements.
Get OA Support
If some tasks are just too difficult -- like grocery shopping or doing laundry -- consider getting some help. There are many home grocery delivery options, and many towns have laundry services that pick up and deliver. It may cost a little more, but how much do extra medications, doctor visits, and even hospitalizations cost? Or try asking a friend or family member to shop with you or give a hand with laundry.
You may feel uncomfortable asking for help, but you don’t have to manage OA alone. You’ve probably given a hand to many family members and friends over the years; now let them help you in return.