Self Help

Self Help

You can work with your arthritis to improve your whole life. Learn which form you have. Get the right medical help. Then be amazed how much you can do to improve things for yourself.

In our For Arthritis Help list, you will find Arthritis care. For detailed advice on any of the options here, or anything else to do with arthritis, click on the Arthritis Care link or ring their helpline.

Exercise makes all the difference for most forms of arthritis. The right exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for yourself. Your physiotherapist will get you started with therapeutic exercises. There are many forms of exercise you can really enjoy while enormously improving your condition. What you basically want are exercises to:

• increase flexibility,
• strengthen muscles to strengthen and protect joints
• improve your posture and the way you use your body
• increase endurance

It is important to choose low impact exercise. Avoid exercise which jars or puts sudden strains on your joints. The right daily exercise can increase your mobility, reduce pain, let you be more functional, lift your spirits, and increase your enjoyment of life.

Always check with your physiotherapist that the exercise you’re choosing is a good one for your particular condition. Some good ones to consider include:

• walking
• swimming
• low-impact aerobics or dance
• Tai Chi
• yoga (if done carefully and without excess stretch or strain)
• bicycle riding
• weight or resistance training – done carefully with an experienced instructor who understand your condition.
• Pilates Technique

If you are not capable of any of these at this point, do not despair. There is no arthritic disability that will stop you from doing some form of exercise. Your physiotherapist can create a programme for you. Housework, gardening and other basic life activities can also be great exercise. Get some guidance from an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist to make these therapeutic exercises rather than damaging chores.

For ways to find out more about exercise see the Exercise in our Health Information we Trust list. Many Complementary techniques are movement based and can provide therapeutic exercise. See our Complementary Techniques guide for an overview of well-known options.

Posture: Your physiotherapist will diagnose and give exercises for any posture problems relating to your condition. Particularly for Osteoarthritis and other forms of degenerative arthritis, posture improvement and better body mechanics can make a huge difference. To free and ease your posture and movement, Alexander technique, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates classes and other complementary techniques can be very helpful.

Rest and Relaxation can be as important as exercise. Some good hours of sleep at night and taking rests when needed during the day can help. Learning relaxation and meditation techniques can make a big difference. Many of these can help with letting go of unnecessary physical and mental tension. They can also help you get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of life in general. See our Complementary Techniques guide and Health Information we Trust list.

Positions, Furniture, Sticks and Joint Protection: Finding good positions in which to rest and work can be difficult. The right kind of mattress and pillow on your bed can be a great help. So can the right choice of chairs. We tend to be still in unhelpful positions when we sit. Walking sticks, the right shoes (talk to a Podiatrist), all the right tools for living more easily with arthritis can be surprisingly important. Once again, your physiotherapist can advise. Your doctor, hospital or social services can get you the help of an Occupational Therapist if you need help with these issues. They are experts in helping you to function as well as possible. You can also find pretty much any aid, equipment or adaptation you need by contacting Arthritis Care or the Disabled Living Foundation.

Supplements, Snake-oils and Diets

The internet is full of “cures” for arthritis. Beware anything claiming to cure your condition. There are supplements and dietary factors which may help, but “cures” are what we call “snake-oils”. In fact some of them have actually been snake venoms. Be careful about anything claiming to help all forms of arthritis. Some, like copper bracelets, are unproven but harmless. Most should be avoided. If you are considering using a supplement, herbal or other complimentary remedy for arthritis, check the Medline Plus website to learn more about it.

Supplements which show good scientific evidence of helping arthritis include glucosamine and chondroitin. There is increasing evidence that the essential fatty acids in fish oils have an effect on inflammation, and some evidence for ginger and garlic among others. That a supplement is “natural”, doesn’t mean it is safe. Check Medline Plus to learn more about any supplement which interests you.

WholehealthMD tells us that in a review of 14 studies from 19,66­2,006 data from higher quality studies suggested that the herb Devil’s Claw may be effective in helping to relieve the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Devil’s Claw may be complementary to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and reduce the amounts of them required. They also suggests that:

In addition to using a glucosamine combination, try applying Capsaicin (cayenne cream) to painful joints. Capsaicin, the ingredient in cayenne peppers that makes them hot to the taste and can cause a burning sensation when the cream is applied to the skin, also inhibits the production of substance P, a chemical involved in relaying pain signals to the brain. However, you must use an effective dose of capsaicin cream regularly (two or three times a day for over a week) to know if cayenne will help your arthritis.

To relieve or reduce joint discomfort, it may be worth trying the herbs boswellia or white willow; both have anti-inflammatory effects. Although it is more frequently recommended by nutritionally oriented doctors for rheumatoid arthritis, some physicians find that bromelain, the natural anti-inflammatory derived from pineapple, can be effective in controlling the pain of osteoarthritis, especially when it’s combined with other supplements like glucosamine and MSM.

SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), a cartilage-building form of the amino acid methionine, is claimed to have anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen’s. WholehealthMD says studies have demonstrated that SAMe can be as effective as NSAIDs. MedlinePlus, however, considers this supplement to be unproven for effectiveness or safety. What both sources agree about is that it is expensive, especially when taken for any length of time.

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