It’s a sign of the wear and tear you put your body through and osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints.
Occurring when the cartilage or the cushion between your joints breaks down, osteoarthritis can cause pain, stiffness and swelling.
It affects roughly 4 million Australians, but with an ageing population the number of people who will suffer in the future is estimated to double.
There are lots of so-called ‘cures’ around, but here are eight tips for self-care at home.
1. Keep active
It’s difficult to even contemplate exercise when your arthritis hurts, but many studies show physical activity is one of the most effective ways of improving the quality of your life. Exercise strengthens your muscles and bones and helps keep your joints flexible. Resistance training has been shown to build stronger muscles and aerobic workouts are a good way of burning calories, which contributes to maintaining a healthy weight.
2. Maintain a balanced diet
A variety of nutrients can assist in relieving arthritis symptoms. Foods rich in vitamin C — hello fruits and vegetables — can also help. Omega-3 fatty acids (the ones you find in fish and fish oil), whole grains, dairy and lean meats also aid in relieving pain.
3. Drop the kilos… if you need to
It’s no secret that being overweight places unnecessary strain on your weight-bearing joints (knees, spine, hips, ankles and feet). Even losing a couple of kilos can reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Don’t expect you will drop the weight in an instant; think of making small changes every day that can have a long-term impact, like cutting down your portions.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleeping well helps you cope with the pain and stress of osteoarthritis. If you go to bed at (roughly) the same time every night and have removed distractions like televisions, computers, tablets and mobile phones from your bedroom you are well on your way to creating an ideal sleeping environment. If your arthritis is causing you discomfort, try using pillows to take the pressure off your painful joints. However, for frequent sleep issues you should consult your health professional.
5. Complementary medicine and supplements
Many people find that acupuncture is an effective method of relieving the pain and disability osteoarthritis causes. Several trials have been shown to ease knee pain and improve joint function. Massage is another method, used to increase blood flow and provide warmth to your painful joints.
While glucosamine has been found to alleviate pain. Some studies have revealed that the type of glucosamine can influence the relief you experience — glucosamine sulphate is supposedly beneficial, whereas glucosamine hydrochloride is not.
Be sure to talk to your doctor.
6. You’re hot then you’re cold
Hot compresses can improve pain and stiffness because it increases blood flow, while a cold compress will reduce swelling. It’s best to experiment with hot and cold compresses to determine which one has the best results for you.
7. Splints, braces and canes
Aides that support painful joints such as splints, braces and canes can ease the discomfort osteoarthritis causes you. Appliances such as electric can openers, and shower chairs can also make everyday activities just that bit easier.
8. Find support
Osteoarthritis is not something that makes life a breeze. You can feel deflated by the way it makes you feel and the level of independence you might experience as a result. It’s important you continue to do the things you enjoy doing when you can. Organisations like Arthritis Queensland can also provide you with resources and information on how you can manage.