managing arthritis

Managing Arthritis at Home

Learn what causes arthritis and how can you manage it at home - the different lifestyle and diet changes you can do to cope with its painful effect.

by Emma Hall

Arthritis is a debilitating and painful condition that affects thousands of Australians. It affects the joints in different parts of the body, including the knees, elbows, back and hands. Arthritis comes in different forms, but regardless of what type of arthritis you are experiencing, there are ways to manage it. At home treatment and management options can assist to cope with the painful effects of arthritis and ensure that you can continue living a happy and healthy life with the condition.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is experienced by millions of people around the world, but it is not very well understood as a condition. Arthritis is not a disease in itself; it is actually a way of referring to disease of the joints and the associated pain of this. 

There are more than one hundred types of arthritis, and each type comes with its own symptoms and challenges. However, certain types of arthritis are more common and experienced by many Australians.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most common types of arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, which means it is a condition that causes your immune system to attack healthy cells within your body. Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and pain in the joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is another form of arthritis that affects many people. This type of arthritis affects the cartilage at the end of bones, causing it to wear down and resulting in bones rubbing together. This causes pain in joints such as the knees, hips, spine and hands.

What Causes Arthritis?

The cause of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis that you are suffering from. However, in many cases the cause of the condition is not fully understood. In cases where the type of arthritis is an autoimmune disease, such as Rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriatic arthritis, experts believe that the condition is caused by a fault in the immune system. Immune system problems can be inherited genetically, but more research is needed in this area.

Some lifestyle and environmental factors can also contribute to the development of arthritis. Osteoarthritis has been linked to obesity or carrying too much weight, which puts strain on joints and causes cartilage to break down more quickly. It can also be caused by damage to a joint through repetitive actions, injuries, or a lack of activity. 

In some cases, people can develop ‘reactive arthritis’. This is caused by an infection in the body. It is not chronic, as with many other forms of arthritis, and usually lasts only a few months. Unlike more common forms of arthritis, which are seen most frequently in older adults, reactive arthritis is found in younger people.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Regardless of the kind of arthritis you are suffering from, you will experience symptoms focused on pain in your joints. Often, this involves stiffness and difficulty moving in the joints, swelling and inflammation, and redness.

Arthritis appears in different parts of the body and can present in specific ways based on where your arthritis is. 

For people who have arthritis in their knees, you may notice pain when doing activities such as climbing stairs, standing up from a chair, or sitting for a long time. The cartilage damage in your knee joint may result in grinding or cracking sounds as the bones rub together when you bend and straighten your leg. 

When you have arthritis in your hands, you may experience pain in your knuckles, the joints of your fingers, and the base of your thumb. You may find the pain is more pronounced when you first get up in the morning. Over time, you may lose the ability to fully open and close your hand, and small nodules may form on your finger joints.

If you have arthritis in your elbow, you may suffer from stiffness and the inability to completely bend or straighten your arm. Your joint could feel unstable, making it difficult for you to support your weight with your arms. Additionally, your elbow joint may ‘lock’ or become stuck in one position. 

How to Manage Arthritis at Home

Although arthritis can be a painful condition, there are lots of things you can do to manage it and continue living a healthy and fulfilled life after your diagnosis. Staying active and in a positive state of mind will assist to manage your arthritis and slow the progression of your condition. 

Regular Exercise 

When you have sore joints, activity can feel counter-intuitive. But a regular exercise program is recommended by the experts to help manage arthritis and stop the condition from getting worse. Low-impact exercises that allow you to get your heart rate up without putting too much pressure on your joints are the best way to keep your joints flexible and strengthen your muscles.

When you exercise, your body becomes stronger, so your joints become better supported by the strong muscles around them. Additionally, exercise prevents weight gain, which can put further pressure on your joints if not managed. 

Some options for exercise include walking, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi and cycling. Doing a range of different exercises prevents you from becoming bored or tired of one thing. Taking a friend along helps with motivation.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is recommended for all people, regardless of age or health conditions. However, it is particularly beneficial to people managing arthritis. A balanced diet full of vegetables, fruit and whole foods improves your overall health. Plus, it prevents weight gain and the development of other conditions which may make your arthritis more difficult to manage, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol. 

Plant-based diets have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body through the infusion of antioxidants. This can assist when you are experiencing sore and swollen joints due to arthritis. 

It’s best to avoid certain foods that can make inflammation worse. Limit your intake of red meat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and processed foods. 

Hot and Cold Treatments

Some people living with arthritis will use hot and cold therapy, or a combination of both, to soothe their pain. 

Heat can make the body feel better by loosening up the muscles and providing relief to stiff joints. You can try soaking in a warm bath when you’re experiencing pain or using an electric blanket overnight to help you sleep and reduce morning soreness. Heat pads or heated wheat bags are also a good idea to apply to certain parts of the body.

There are also topical creams and products that you can apply to the skin, which create a warm sensation. Many of these are designed to reduce inflammation and are available for purchase over the counter at your local chemist.

Swelling and inflammation is best treated with cold therapy. You can reduce joint swelling and pain by applying an ice pack directly to the joint. Remember to only use these for a short time and to never apply ice directly to the skin.

Whether you like hot or cold treatments will often be based on personal preference, or you may like to try a hot option in the chilly mornings and a cold option on a warm afternoon.

Massage

Similarly to heat therapy, massage can help to warm the skin and reduce pain and swelling in the joints affected by arthritis. Although massage is not a proven therapy for arthritis, many sufferers note that it is a relaxing pain relief technique that can assist to manage the condition. 

You can practice massage at home, either by doing it yourself or asking a loved one. Rubbing and applying gentle pressure to painful and swollen joints can ease the pain and release tension in the surrounding muscles. Massage is also very good to relieve stress and to relax.

You may want to explore options for massage therapists. A good masseuse can target certain areas of the body and help to manage the discomfit of arthritis. Always explain to them that you have certain areas that may be sore and tender, and don’t be afraid to tell them if they are hurting you by applying too much pressure.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is another form of therapy that many arthritis sufferers find beneficial. It involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body. This ancient Chinese approach has been used for centuries to realign the nervous system. Modern practitioners are increasingly finding the benefits of acupuncture for stimulating the immune system, promoting circulation, and reducing pain.

When you go to an acupuncture therapist, they will insert needles into strategic points designed to stimulate your body and alleviate your pain. Research has suggested that acupuncture is more beneficial for people with Rheumatoid arthritis than Osteoarthritis, but experts suggest it is worth trying regardless if you’re interested in finding new ways to reduce inflammation and joint pain.

Home Aids

When experiencing the symptoms of arthritis, some everyday tasks may become difficult. To continue living and enjoying life, you may want to use some home aids to help with mobility and other tasks. There are hundreds of tools available to assist with everything from preparing meals, to getting dressed, to walking around the neighbourhood. Especially if you have lost range of movement in your hands, you may find you need some of these aids and devices to help you in everyday life.

Relaxation

Pain can have a big impact on our physical and mental health. In fact, people with chronic pain have some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression in Australia. If you are living with persistent pain and discomfit due to your arthritis, it’s important to find ways of dealing with this. Relaxation and meditation techniques have been proven to naturally manage pain and reduce the associated stress.

Mindfulness practices are easy to do at home, by yourself or with a friend. There are a few to try and you can find which works best for you, from breathing techniques, to yoga and tai chi. Many studies have discovered the benefits of mindfulness for people suffering from pain, including pain associated with different forms of arthritis. 

A positive mindset is essential to living with and managing arthritis. Make sure you are keeping up with things you like, seeing people you love, and appreciating the good things in life.

Counselling

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your arthritis diagnosis, it can be a good idea to speak to a professional counsellor or therapist. In Australia, up to a third of people with arthritis may be clinically depressed. Feelings of unhappiness or despair are normal, but should be addressed early.

A counsellor can help you manage anxiety and depression by providing emotional support and suggesting changes you may be able to make. Mental health is complicated and different for everyone, but your health care professionals can work out a mental health plan for you to ensure you receive the psychological assistance you need.

Medication

Many people experiencing arthritis will be prescribed some medication by their doctor. These will vary according to type of arthritis and severity of the condition. It’s important to always speak to your GP and keep them up to date with your pain levels and discomfit so they can help you to manage these. They may recommend additional pain medication or anti-inflammatories to help you manage the condition. Never mix prescription drugs with over-the-counter pain relief or other medications before checking with your doctor.

Help at Home

If you are struggling at home due to your arthritis, help is available. Home nursing services can greatly assist to keep you living in your own home and enjoying life while receiving the support you need. Home nurses can help with everyday tasks when you are feeling too stiff and sore. They can also help with transport to doctors’ visits, administering medication, and more.

Arthritis poses a series of challenges to people who are living with this condition. Although Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis are painful and sometimes debilitating, there are many ways that you can manage the discomfit and continue doing the things you love. Finding ways to cope with the pain, keeping a positive mindset, and getting some extra help around the house are all good ideas to help you manage your arthritis at home.

References
  1. 10 steps for living well with arthritis. (2021, March 9). Arthritis Australia. https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/managing-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/10-steps-for-living-well-with-arthritis
  2. Acupuncture for Arthritis. (2020). Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/natural-therapies/acupuncture-for-arthritis
  3. Arthritis. (2021). Healthdirect. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/arthritis
  4. Arthritis of the Hand: Symptoms, Types & Treatments. (2020). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7082-arthritis-of-the-wrist-and-hand
  5. Healthline Editorial Team. (2020, August 6). Everything You Want to Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
  6. Pietrangelo, A. (2021, October 1). 7 Symptoms of Arthritis in the Knee. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/knee-arthritis-symptoms#symptoms
  7. Self-Help Arthritis Devices. (2021). Arthritis Organisation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/joint-protection/self-help-arthritis-devices
  8. What Is Arthritis? (2020). Arthritis Organisation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis
About the Writer
Emma Hall
Emma Hall is a professional writer with experience in healthcare and wellness. She loves to write clear and helpful articles about health, fitness and more. Emma lives in Melbourne and loves coffee, running, and her pet dog Bernie.
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