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Easing the pain of arthritis

If you have arthritis, you know how joint pain and stiffness can make it a challenge just to get through the day. If you often find yourself avoiding activities you used to enjoy, such as walking, gardening or crafting, because your joints are too achy or you’re afraid you’ll regret your actions later, you may wind up with a terminal case of the blues.

Take heart—arthritis pain can be controlled. Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re doing everything you can to prevent or minimize arthritis discomfort.

  • Are you paying attention to your body? When you feel pain, notice which movements produce lingering pain and stiffness and try to avoid them. Stretch your body every day, gently and smoothly but not to the point of pain. Treat any foot problems, since foot pain can change the way you walk and cause misalignment and stress through the ankles, knees, hips and spine. A poor stride can cause arthritis to develop or aggravate existing arthritis. Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly.

  • Are you positioned to avoid pain? Keep your body mechanics in check and maintain good posture throughout the day. Make sure your work surfaces, both on the job and at home, are the right height for you. When sitting at a desk, adjust your chair’s height so your work surface is about two inches below your bent elbow. This position will help prevent back strain and decrease stress on your hips and knees as you sit and stand. Use armrests or wrist supports if you work at a keyboard. And remember—the cushiest executive chair isn’t necessarily the best; find a chair that supports your back.

  • Are you making use of tools that can help you? Ask your doctor about arthritis-friendly devices and tools that can help reduce or prevent joint pain. Toilet-seat risers, for example, can help take stress off hips and knees. A book holder can let you enjoy lengthy reads without hand pain. Kitchen tools and other gadgets with padded grips can help you open jars and cabinet doors. Walking sticks or canes may help take stress off your joints and encourage mobility so you can stay flexible.

  • Are you treating your body well? Don’t curse your body for what it can’t do. Nurture your body to coax the best performance out of it you can. Take warm baths or showers to soothe stiffness or apply cold packs to numb arthritis pain. Perform regular, moderate exercise as recommended by your physician. Exercise can keep your weight in check, limiting the joint stress caused by excess pounds. Determine which kinds of exercise make your body feel good. Eat well and get proper rest to help keep your spirits up and give you the energy to exercise.

  • Are you having a good time? A positive mind-set works wonders. Enjoy your hobbies and interests. They’ll distract you from your arthritis pain, bring pleasure into your life and promote feelings of accomplishment. Get together with friends, rent a funny movie, play cards, listen to music or play with your pet. Do what you love, but in smaller amounts. For example, you may find that 20 minutes of gardening is manageable but longer periods trigger pain. And don’t rule out more ambitious plans like vacations. Just be sure to pack your medication, your insurance card, some comfortable shoes and anything else that helps you fight pain.

  • Are you changing it up? Activities that feel fine for a while may eventually cause discomfort. At work or at home, avoid repetitive movements that can stress your joints. That includes sitting—get up and move around. If a sedentary office job makes you ache, build stretching breaks into your day. If you feel sore after working out, don’t assume you can’t exercise. Ask a physical therapist or a knowledgeable personal trainer to show you different ways to work your muscles. Learn how to adjust gym equipment to minimize joint strain. Rotate among different activities and consider pool exercise and fitness classes developed for people with arthritis.

  • Are you communicating? Let your friends and family know how your arthritis affects you. Some arthritis causes fatigue as well as pain and stiffness. Don’t be timid about asking for help. Talk to your healthcare provider about your arthritis pain and any problems you may be having with your medication.