Don't Let Arthritis Slow You Down

Arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling, is one of the most common health problems in the United States. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, it afflicts an estimated one in every five adults. Because it so often leads to painful movement or exertion, the CDC says that people with arthritis are likely to be less physically active than those who don’t have it. Some people, the CDC says, think they will make arthritis worse with exercise, while other don’t know how to exercise safely.

A physical therapist can teach patients how to be active safely and to modify activities correctly, according to Harvard Medical School. But besides this kind of therapy, the Harvard experts say, there are things you can do for yourself to make life with arthritis simpler. Here are their suggestions:

Stay on the move. Don’t hold the same position for too long. The Harvard experts recommend getting up every 15 minutes and stretching, for example, if you’re working at a desk. The experts also suggest doing that while you’re reading or watching television.

Work with your strengths. The Harvard experts recommend using your strongest muscles and joints to help make tasks easily. If your finger and wrist joints ache, push open heavy doors with the side or your arm or your shoulder. If you have problems with your hip or knee, reduce stress while climbing stairs by leading with the strong leg going up and the weaker leg going down.

Plan an anti-pain campaign. Think about how you can minimize difficult or painful movements, the Harvard experts say. Keep items you need where they are needed (cleaning supplies in your bathroom, for example, rather than in a cleaning closet). Streamline your routines so you can minimize movements that are painful.

Go for gadgets. Devices that save labor and help you adapt can make life a lot easier. The Harvard experts cite a long-handled gripper that can help you get out-of-reach objects. Chair extenders can increase the height of chairs, making them easier to get out of. Ask your doctor what devices would be right for you.

Ask for help. Although arthritis is a common cause of disability, it’s rare for people with arthritis to become severely disabled. But, the Harvard experts caution, the emotional burden of arthritis can be a heavy one, with patients afraid of becoming too dependent. Talk with family and friends about the effect arthritis has on you, and ask for help when you need it.

For more on keeping your joints healthy and ways to ease the pain caused by osteoarthritis, buy Living With Osteoarthritis: A Guide to Keeping Your Joints Healthy, the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.