A three-pronged approach helps you manage this condition
If your joints hurt, here’s how to approach the situation: Get the help you need. Be active. And don’t give up.
This advice comes from Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, Vice Chair, Arthritis & Musculoskeletal Center in the Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Disease, and Director of Clinical Outcomes Research within Cleveland Clinic’s Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute.
Not giving up has to do with attitude. “A positive outlook is always very important when dealing with a chronic issue,” Dr. Husni says. “It makes you able to embrace treatment and manage the symptoms better.”
Dr. Husni, who also directs the institute’s Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center, emphasizes that joint pain can be managed. “You can get the symptoms under good control and lead a normal life,” she says.
Once you have your positive attitude in place, here’s what else you can do:
It’s crucial to do something about joint pain, she says. “Don’t ignore pain that needs to be treated. Get the right diagnosis because there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis.”
Depending on the diagnosis, an arthritis specialist will be able to determine the right course of treatment. For example, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis require medication. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is slower to develop and may be managed through exercises that increase flexibility and strength or activity modification, she says.
Dr. Husni’s patients often do well with a combination of medicine and complementary therapies. For instance, fish oil is beneficial for inflammatory arthritis, she says. And acupuncture helps many of her patients move better and feel better. “They’ve found that it maximizes their oral therapy, allowing medication to work to its fullest potential,” she says.
If you don’t exercise regularly, it’s important to increase your level of physical activity. “You should always be under the care of a physician when you’re about to start an exercise program,” Dr. Husni says. “Get the go-ahead, and then, depending on your previous level of activity, start slow and gradually increase.”
To begin, Dr. Husni suggests exercising twice a week for 20 minutes at a time. “Walk. Do try water-based therapy. If you feel good and you don’t injure yourself, increase to 40 minutes three times a week.”
If you think housework is exercise enough, you might be disappointed. “Just because you clean the house doesn’t mean you move all your joints,” Dr. Husni says. Instead, she suggests, schedule “me time” for you and your joints with a mix of aerobics, stretching and weight-bearing exercises.
Regular exercise actually lessens your chances of being injured. “It’s the people who don’t do much and go out to play with their grandchildren who all of a sudden get hurt,” Dr. Husni says. Also, take frequent breaks when doing repetitive tasks, whether it’s tapping on a keyboard or carrying a baby in your arms. And, she adds, wear sensible shoes whenever you engage in physical activity so you’re less likely to twist an ankle or fall down.
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