Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with arthritis or have been experiencing joint pain for many years, coping with a chronic illness can feel overwhelming. There’s a lot of information to take in and countless treatments and therapies to explore. Of late, due to the pandemic, we’ve also had limited access to healthcare support, which has exasperated the situation even further.
The most important thing to remember is – you also have control. Making changes, even if they are small, can bring positive effects. Healthy lifestyle choices, adapting your habits and learning to manage the physical and emotional effects of your condition are all aspects of arthritis self-management.
What does arthritis self-management involve?
There are many ways to manage arthritis symptoms. You just need to find what’s right for you. Sometimes this means experimenting, making adjustments, giving new things a go and then incorporating the ones that work into your daily routine.
Eating healthily, staying active through regular exercise and getting enough sleep are all intrinsic to arthritis self-management. Your mental health also needs to be prioritised. Find time to connect with friends and family, try to limit stress and build a solid support network. Sharing your experiences with fellow arthritis sufferers through local support groups – as well as online ones like our Facebook community Together For Better Days – may prove beneficial.
Among other things, you can try:
- Journaling: Writing it down can help us make sense of our thoughts and feelings, as well as notice any trends in our arthritis symptoms and flare-ups. Invest in a notepad or diary and put five minutes or so aside every evening to muse over the highs and lows of the day. Once you see progress, you’ll get a big confidence boost! An app like the Arthritis Foundation’s Track + Reactis a great option if you have trouble with writing or typing.
- Immersing yourself in a new hobby: Fatigue and painful, swollen and stiff joints can get in the way of doing the things you enjoy. There are always alternatives! From gardening to painting, yoga to hiking, the list of arthritis-friendly hobbies to discover is wide-ranging. You can find out about free clubs and activities in your area by visiting your local council’s website.
- Relaxation techniques: Living with arthritis can be stressful. You may find that breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, aromatherapy, yoga or meditation help you unwind, ease anxiety and relieve chronic pain. YouTube has lots of guided meditation videos, just like this one, to try.
Simple habits to make your diet arthritis-friendly
Scientific research suggests that diet impacts arthritis. Generally, the anti-inflammatory diet is favoured among chronic pain sufferers. Inflammatories like red meat, refined carbohydrates (white bread or pastries) and sugar are best avoided, while foods that help with arthritis joint pain include fresh fruit and vegetables, fatty fish and whole grains.
Here are some small steps you can take to improve your diet:
- Cut down on sugar: There are several simple ways to reduce your sugar intake. Checking labels and ingredient lists is the first place to start as this will help you understand what foods contain the highest amounts of sugar. You can also try swapping sugary beverages, like fizzy options, for fresh, naturally sweet fruit juice or smoothies, and eating ‘full-fat’ foods, instead of ‘low-fat’ ones, which usually use more sugar or salt.
- Try herbal teas: A cuppa always makes us feel better! There are excellent anti-inflammatory teas to try, including ginger tea, green tea and rosehip tea. If you’re searching for brands, check out OMGTea’s award-winning, high-grade Organic Matcha Green Tea, which can be ordered online.
- Swap meat for fish: Next time you want to indulge in a steak, serve up a tasty tuna salad or grilled salmon instead. Any fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids is great because it has been found to reduce inflammation. Canned options are super affordable and convenient too! Beat Arthritis Naturally, a book by Emily Johnson, founder of Arthritis Foodie, features some delicious recipes.
Effective arthritis exercises and stretches
When you’re in pain, moving is the last thing you want to do, but it’s important to stay active. Undertaking regular low-impact exercise, such as yoga, water aerobics and cycling, is an effective form of arthritis management, and you can also incorporate gentle stretches into your daily routine that will strengthen your muscles and support your joints.
- If you have arthritis in your hands, fingers and wrists, try slowly curling your hand into a fist with your thumb on the outside. Hold for several seconds (but not too tightly) and then stretch your hand back out. Do this several times, before switching hands.
- An exercise to try to ease lower back pain is the pelvic tilt. It strengthens your core, providing support for the rest of the body. Lie on your back with your knees bent and toes facing forward, flatten your back by tightening your abdominal muscles and bend your pelvis up slightly. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat.
For more arthritis exercises and stretches, click here. You can even perform them from the comfort of your bed! It’s also worth checking out Let’s move with Leon, a free 12-week programme of 30-minute movement sessions, presented by fitness expert Leon Wormley, and The Active Londoners Programme, which helps people with musculoskeletal conditions and arthritis get active through a variety of tailor-made movement sessions, expert tips and advice.
Best products for arthritis self-management
From tools to make day-to-day tasks easier to fast-acting, natural pain relief remedies, the market is teeming with specially developed products for arthritis self-management. Here are just a few:
Ever heard of heat or cold therapy? Both treatments can be used to treat arthritis. Not only does heat relax muscles, but it also stimulates blood circulation and helps lubricate the joints. Cold compresses, on the other hand, reduce swelling by constricting blood vessels. The YUYU Bottle is a self-care accessory that warms and cools your body. Made from 100% natural, biodegradable rubber, it can be worn on the go and is medically endorsed for comfort and pain relief.
Grace and Able compression gloves
Described as a “hug for your hand”, these gloves from Grace and Able offer gentle compression to relieve swelling and support sore joints. They’re lightweight and breathable, featuring an open-finger design for ultimate convenience.
To Better Days active patches
Containing a patented combination of vitamin D and dextrose, our active patches provide topical, targeted pain relief for joints, muscles and nerves. Available in two sizes – Big and Small – they can be applied to different areas of the body and show positive effects in as little as 30 minutes!
McKesson therapy putty
Designed to increase flexibility, improve strength, prevent stiffness, decrease stress and relieve joint pain in your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms, this therapy putty from McKesson can be stretched, squeezed, twisted or pinched using a variety of exercises.
Designed for anyone who finds pulling out stiff and fiddly plugs from sockets challenging, Plugull fits snug onto plugs, but the top part extends up into a finger loop. This piece of equipment is perfect for dexterity, limited grip and arthritis affecting the wrists, hands and fingers.
Management of arthritis pain takes time and dedication – it’s a journey. What self-help strategies do you have in place? We’d love to hear about your insights and experiences. Why not join our Facebook community group Together For Better Days – a safe, no-judgement space for people living with chronic pain, as well as those supporting them, to come together.