Ways to self-manage ARTHRITIS

Self-management is about using your own resources to help manage your condition. There is much you can do for yourself. You may well already use a combination of the following techniques:

  • pacing yourself - try to balance rest with activity
  • having a warm bath and using heated pads or a hot water bottle to reduce stiffness
  • using a cold pack or a damp cloth around ice cubes or frozen vegetables to reduce swelling
  • massage to help relax muscles and improve blood flow
  • relaxation, breathing exercises and meditation techniques to relax muscles and ease pain

 

Understanding your feelings

When you live with a long-term medical condition, you are more likely to be confronted regularly by a range of emotions, such as frustration, fear, resentment, anger, pain and vulnerability. Emotions are powerful and can be complicated. Learning to identify and manage these emotions is very important and can be liberating.

Distinguishing between feelings associated with arthritis and feelings associated with the highs and lows of daily living is important. It’s natural enough – particularly soon after a diagnosis – to blame everything on arthritis, but in allowing arthritis to direct all your emotions you are allowing arthritis to control you. Self-management is about regaining control of arthritis as just one part of who you are.

Eating well

Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet is important when you have arthritis. As well as providing you with all the nutrients you need, this will help you maintain a healthy weight.

In general, a healthy diet is one that is:

  • high in fruit and vegetables
  • high in starch and fibre
  • low in fatty foods and salt
  • low in added sugars

Keeping active

Exercise can be the last thing you want to do when in pain from your arthritis. However, exercising is one of the best ways of keeping pain at bay. This Exercise and Arthritis booklet contains more information. The other benefits of exercise include:

  • a better range of movement and joint mobility
  • increased muscle strength
  • less stiffness
  • increased energy

 

Can exercise make my arthritis worse?

The right kind of exercise will not make your arthritis any worse. In fact, exercising helps you lose weight, which means less strain on your joints. It is important not to overstrain yourself while you are exercising, and to gently stretch before and after exercise. You can still exercise during a flare up although your workouts should be gentle.

Your FIT4LIFEOVER50 Trainer can help you to pick an exercise program to suit you. A physiotherapist will advise you on the best exercises after assessing your joints and muscles.

It is usual to feel some pain as your muscles get used to being exercised. Seek advice from your doctor if you feel pain in the joint itself or if the pain continues for more than two hours after finishing exercising as this might be a sign you have overdone it.

 

Types of exercise

 

A good exercise program will incorporate three types of exercise: range of movement, strengthening and aerobic exercises.

  • Range of movement exercises help maintain flexibility, strength and good posture
  • Strengthening exercises help strengthen the muscles which support your joints
  • Aerobic exercises are ones that raise your heart rate and strengthen your heart. This allows your muscles to work more efficiently

People with arthritis seem to benefit from the following types of aerobic exercise:

How else can I keep active?

Keeping active does not mean you have to spend hours at the gym. There are many simple ways of incorporating exercise into your daily lifestyle.

  • Walk when you can – to work, to the shops etc
  • Vacuuming or mopping the floor is a good aerobic exercise
  • Doing the washing up can help loosen finger joints
  • Gardening can work out the whole body

 

Taking care of joints

When you have arthritis it is important to look after yourself to reduce further damage to your joints. This might mean learning new ways of carrying out everyday tasks to reduce the stress on your joints. To protect your joints you should:

  • plan ahead – save harder tasks for later in the day when you might be feeling less stiff or sore
  • pace yourself throughout the day
  • notice which positions and movements make you stiff
  • avoid straining joints by doing things awkwardly
  • avoid being in one position for a long time
  • try to stick to a healthy weight

Practical changes at home and at work

To protect your joints you might want to think about how you carry out everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and going to work. There are some simple changes you can make to minimise the risk of damaging your joints.

  • Use larger, stronger joints – push doors open with your shoulder rather than your hand and/or use your forearms/elbow joints to pick up items.
  • Spread the weight of an object over many joints – use both hands to carry your shopping or use a shoulder bag.
  • Avoid gripping things too tightly – hold items as loosely as possible or expand your grip with padding.
  • Shift rather than lift items – slide heavy pans along a kitchen unit.
  • Consider flexible working – starting earlier or later in the day to avoid the rush hour.
  • Try not to sit in the same position all day – take regular breaks and move around.

*ARTHRITIS CARE

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