At least one form of arthritis or its related conditions (osteoarthritis, lupus and gout) affects more than one in five adults in the United States — generally more women than men, with the exception of gout, which tends to affect Black men more.
If you have arthritis, joint pain can dramatically interfere with your quality of life and the ability to do those everyday activities you once did with ease. But there are easy, everyday things you can do to help provide some relief…in addition to consulting with your doctor, of course.
Arthritis and exercise may not seem like a natural match, but staying active can definitely help your joint pain. “Joints are meant to move, and when they move they’re lubricated,” says physical therapist Patrice Winter, PT, MS, of Fairfax Physical Therapy in Fairfax, Va. Even arthritic joints benefit from motion. The key is to know your limits, Winter says. Understand the range of motion available to you and don’t push past that limit, or you can end up increasing joint pain. And skip the weight-bearing exercises — water-based activities are ideal, especially in warm water.
Joint pain can make sitting at a desk miserable. Fortunately, a few simple tips can help you get through a day at the office. If you work at a desk, make sure you have an ergonomic chair that supports your body and a workstation where all your actions can be done within your range of motion. Choose a hands-free headset instead of clenching a phone between your shoulder and your head. And stay active — remember that it’s vital to get exercise when you have arthritis. Get up and stretch every 30 to 60 minutes.
Stiff joints? You can still let loose in the bedroom. Your approach to sex should involve support, support, support — and a little bit of creativity. Pillows, wedges, and rolled towels that support curved areas will improve your sexual experience, as will trying out new positions to find what’s comfortable. The most important point, says Winter, is not to always conform to the standard missionary position (one partner on top and the other underneath). Spooning, for instance, might be a more viable alternative, she suggests.
The secret to navigating the kitchen when you have joint pain is having everything that you use most commonly in your “strike zone.” That means you may have to reorganize cooking essentials so that most items are between shoulder and thigh height. It’s also a good idea to have a counter at thigh height, which will make stirring and rolling dough easier, says Winter. Finally, plan your strategy before you start cooking so that you won’t have to carry heavy items, such as a pot full of pasta, across the kitchen by yourself.
If at all possible, try to avoid reaching above your head. You may need some help to reorganize closets and high cabinets, putting what you need most often within easy reach to minimize joint pain. If you must get something off a high shelf — and your arthritis is not hampering you — use a sturdy stepping stool. Still, says Winter, the best thing you can do is to keep only occasional-use items on high shelves, and ask friends or family to get them down for you when you need them.
This is a good rule of thumb for people with arthritis. “First, roll onto one side. As you let your feet over the edge, push up with your torso,” advises Winter. “The weight of the legs can help the upper body come to a sitting position.” With both feet on the floor, wait for any dizziness to pass. Contract your abdominal muscles to help yourself stand up. You may want to install grab bars near your bed to make this process easier.
The key to getting in and out of the car with arthritis symptoms is, again, to move slowly. When getting in, open the door and sit on the seat with both feet on the ground outside the car. Then pivot your body to place one foot and then the other on the floor of the car. Use the car frame for support as needed. When getting out, reverse the process and make sure to use your abdominal muscles to help lift yourself out of the car after both feet are flat on the ground outside the car. If someone is helping you, make sure they don’t pull your arm to get you out of the car.
When you have the joint pain of arthritis, there may be days when putting on your favorite outfit is too much effort. Make sure you have comfortable clothes that slip on instead of requiring that you pull them over your head. Put larger pulls on zippers to make them easier to grasp. On days when your arthritis is particularly difficult, choose raglan style sleeves over tailored sleeves and clothing without buttons.
So what should be your first step to improving life with arthritis?
Schedule a consultation with a physical therapist to help you solve some
of the problems you encounter every day — you can get personalized
advice on how to move through each day without increasing joint pain.
Arthritis pain is manageable. Talk to your doctor/physical therapist, and take it one day at a time!