The 2021 Ultimate Guide to Arthritis
From 2013 to 2015, about 22.7% of U.S. adults were diagnosed with some form of arthritis each year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this number is projected to increase as the population grows and ages. The CDC predicts 78 million, or 26%, of U.S. adults will be diagnosed with arthritis by 2040.
Although so many people are and will be affected by arthritis, it is not commonly understood. It is often thought of as a disease only affecting older adults. Anyone of any age can have arthritis, and it is never too early or too late to learn about it. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to better understand, watch out for, and manage arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease like many people believe. It is a general term used to describe over 100 types of arthritis. Some symptoms all types of arthritis have in common include joint swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased motion range. Still, other symptoms and the cause of the disease will vary depending on the type.
The symptoms experienced can range from mild to severe and may change or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain and significantly impact your daily life, making it hard to walk or do other daily activities. Most arthritis cases occur in adults over 65, but anyone can be diagnosed, including teens and children.
Types of Arthritis
Some common types of arthritis you’d likely heard of before include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
Throughout this guide, we will be addressing the two most common types of arthritis: osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
That said, there are over 100 types of arthritis! Most of them fall into four main categories based on the causes of the arthritis. These categories are degenerative, inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic.
Degenerative arthritis, often referred to as osteoarthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage -- the soft, spongy substance between the bones -- starts to deteriorate. As the cartilage wears away, the bones begin to rub against each other, which is painful and can cause swelling and stiffness.
This type of arthritis is common because it is most often caused by general wear and tear on the joint over time. Most often, osteoarthritis occurs in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. In addition to swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased motion range, some other osteoarthritis symptoms include muscle weakness around the joints, deformed joints, cracking, and creaking.
Inflammatory arthritis, or autoimmune arthritis, occurs when the body’s immune system stops working correctly and begins attacking the joints. This causes the joint and areas around it to become uncontrollably inflamed and swollen. This inflammation can destroy cartilage and bone and may cause joint erosion. Other areas of the body, such as the skin, internal organs, may also become inflamed.
The most common form of inflammatory arthritis and the second most common type of arthritis, in general, is rheumatoid arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), is also the most common type of juvenile arthritis.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the synovial membrane or the joint capsule's lining explicitly. Over time, this can destroy cartilage and bone within the joint. In addition to swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased motion range, other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include fatigue and a loss of appetite.
Other inflammatory arthritis types include psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and gout. With inflammatory arthritis, it is imperative to get an early diagnosis and aggressive treatment to help prevent permanent joint damage.
Infectious arthritis is a sudden form of arthritis caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection entering the joint and causing inflammation. This occurs most often when an infection from another part of your body spreads through the blood to the joint. It may also arise directly through a puncture wound or surgery on or around the joint.
This type of arthritis usually affects one joint, typically the knee, but sometimes the hips, ankles, and wrists. Symptoms start suddenly and include intense swelling, pain, fever, and chills. In many cases, infectious arthritis can be cleared with antibiotics, but sometimes it can become chronic.
Metabolic arthritis is caused by high levels of uric acid in the body. The body cannot quickly use up such high levels, and the uric acid builds up, forming needle-like crystals on the joint. These crystals cause sudden, extreme pain in the joints, and if the uric acid levels are not reduced, the pain can become chronic.
Arthritis Risk Factors
As we’ve mentioned, anyone can suffer from arthritis. However, a few risk factors can make you more likely to be diagnosed with it. These risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition: If someone in your immediate family has arthritis, you may be more likely to develop it. Your genetic makeup makes you more susceptible to environmental factors that can trigger the disorder. For example, for some people, smoking can trigger RA.
- Age: Arthritis is most common among people aged 65 and up. As you get older, you may be more prone to developing arthritis. This is especially true for OA, since it is often caused by wear and tear on the joints.
- Sex: Women are statistically more likely to develop arthritis. According to the CDC, from 2013 to 2015, 26% of women and 19.1% of men reported being diagnosed with arthritis.
- Previous joint injury: A previous injury, such as an ACL tear or an anterior cruciate ligament, can lead to OA in that joint.
- Obesity: According to the CDC, overweight or obese people report arthritis more often than those with a lower body mass index. Excess weight puts a strain on your joints, putting you at a higher risk of developing arthritis.
How to Prevent Arthritis
While many of the arthritis risk factors are out of your control, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk of arthritis. These include:
- Controlling your blood sugar: High blood sugar can make your joints more sensitive to stress by stiffening the tissue surrounding them.
- Exercising: Low-impact exercises like swimming and walking can help strengthen your muscles that support your knees and hips. Exercising can also help you stay at a healthy weight to keep the stress on your joints at a minimum.
- Stretching: This can improve your range of motion and help keep your joints flexible.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking strains tissues that support your joints.
- Eating fish twice a week: Fish high in omega-3s like salmon and trout can help reduce inflammation.
- Staying safe: Avoid arthritis-causing injury by wearing protective gear while playing sports and taking other safety precautions.
Early Signs of Arthritis
In many cases, it’s essential to be diagnosed with arthritis as soon as possible so that you can get the treatment you need. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these early warning signs:
- Pain: One of the first signs of arthritis is joint pain. Arthritis pain can vary; some feel it frequently, while for others, it comes and goes. The pain may occur while at rest, moving, or after waking up in the morning, and it may be in one joint or in many different parts of the body. It’s normal to feel occasional joint pain, but consider talking to your doctor if the pain is consistent.
- Swelling: Some types of arthritis may cause the affected joint to become red and swollen. Be sure to visit the doctor if the swelling occurs for more than three days or more than three times a month.
- Stiffness: Stiff joints are often a telltale sign of arthritis. You may feel stiff after getting out of bed in the morning or after sitting in one position for too long. You may have arthritis if these moments of stiffness last longer than an hour.
- Difficulty moving a joint: If you have trouble doing everyday tasks that involve moving your joints (such as getting up out of a chair or walking upstairs), you may have arthritis.
If you experience any of these symptoms, keep track of them. Take note of what area of the body is affected, when, for how long, and what helps relieve the symptoms. If you’re experiencing other symptoms too, such as a rash or shortness of breath, note those also. Your doctor will use this information to determine if you have arthritis and, if so, what kind of arthritis it is.
If you have a fever or chest pain along with these symptoms, you may need to seek immediate medical care.
How is Arthritis Diagnosed?
To determine if you have arthritis and what type of arthritis you may have, your primary care doctor or a rheumatologist will do the following:
- Ask questions: To get a better idea of what you’re experiencing, the doctor will ask you about the symptoms you’re experiencing, your general health (such as if you’ve had an injury to a joint, etc.), your family’s history with arthritis and other related disorders, and your habits (smoking, sleep, exercise, etc.).
- Physical exam: The doctor will conduct a physical exam to check your joints for swelling, redness, or tenderness. They will also study how well you can move your joints. Depending on your answers to their questions and physical exam results, they may order tests or refer you to a specialist.
Some tests your doctor may order include:
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds can help the doctor check for inflammation, erosion, and other damage to the bones or cartilage.
- Blood, fluid, and tissue tests: These tests analyze your bodily fluid, such as blood and joint fluid, or your skin or muscle tissue to help determine which type of arthritis you may have.
- Nerve tests: Depending on your situation, your doctor may order a nerve test to determine if the nerves' electrical activity has been disrupted.
It can take time and multiple tests before you get a conclusive diagnosis. Since there are so many types of arthritis and other related conditions with similar symptoms, your doctor or rheumatologist has a lot to consider. Try to be patient during this process.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, there are a few treatment methods your doctor may suggest to help you manage your symptoms. This includes medication, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.
Most commonly, medication is used to reduce pain and other symptoms. The medication recommended depends on your type of arthritis. Some medicine your doctor might recommend include:
- Painkillers: These relieve pain but do not reduce other symptoms such as inflammation. Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol), or they might prescribe opioids for more severe pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can reduce both pain and inflammation.
- Counterirritant creams or ointments: Rubbing menthol or capsaicin creams or other ointments over the affected joint blocks the transmission of pain signals from the joint.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): DMARDs are used mainly to treat RA. They slow or stop your immune system from attacking your joints, which can reduce inflammation and slow further joint damage.
- Biologics: These genetically engineered drugs target protein molecules involved in the immune response to counteract inflammatory signals. They are typically used in conjunction with DMARDs.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids help to reduce inflammation and slow the immune system.
Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and improve the range of motion. It can also help you find ways to avoid putting stress on the affected joint, usually with the help of walking aids, splints, or braces.
Natural Pain Relief
Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend other natural pain relief forms, such as hot/cold therapy or TENS therapy. Some TENS garments are specifically made to treat pain in the hands, knees, or other joints! To learn more about TENS units and how they may help, check out our Ultimate Guide to TENS Units.
If all other forms of pain relief aren’t successful, your doctor may suggest surgery. Some possible suggestions include:
- Joint repair: Sometimes, pain can be relieved by smoothing or realigning the joint. This surgery may also help improve the functioning of the joint. In many cases, these types of procedures are minimally invasive.
- Joint replacement: This type of surgery replaces the affected joint with an artificial one. Usually, this surgery is done on the hips and knees.
- Joint fusion: If your arthritis affects smaller joints, such as your fingers or wrists, your doctor might suggest joint fusion surgery. This procedure involves two bones in your joint; the ends of the bones are locked together, and when they heal, they become one stable unit.
Self Managing Your Arthritis
In addition to medical treatments, there are many things you can do to self-manage your arthritis symptoms. Making healthy choices can make a huge difference in how you experience the effects of the disorder. But learning all of the things you can do can often be overwhelming. We’ve compiled a list to help you get started.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
According to the Arthritis Foundation, 80% of people with arthritis have difficulty sleeping. Pain and other factors, like stress, can make it hard to sleep, but a lack of sleep can worsen your pain.
To get a better night’s sleep, keep a regular sleep schedule, limit caffeine, alcohol, and other liquids before bed, and get off digital devices an hour or two before trying to sleep. It may also help to talk to your doctor to pinpoint what keeps you from sleeping well; they might recommend therapy to combat stress or sleep medication.
Exercising during the day is another way to help you sleep soundly. Still, it can also help manage arthritis pain in general! Exercise can strengthen your muscles to support your joints better, keep joints active, reduce stress, and help you lose weight that may strain your joints.
Rest When You Need To
While it’s essential to exercise regularly and keep up a normal lifestyle, it’s also important to rest when your arthritis is active and causing a lot of pain. Take breaks when you need to and lighten your obligations by prioritizing essential activities and responsibilities.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet can also help manage symptoms. It can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and help lose weight that may strain your joints.
Here are some key foods that are good for arthritis:
Fish: Fish like salmon and tuna contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation. Additionally, fish oil supplements can help reduce joint stiffness, tenderness, pain, and swelling.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, have monounsaturated fat that can help fight inflammation.
Fruits and veggies: Fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries, cherries, spinach, kale, and broccoli, are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help neutralize unstable molecules that can damage cells. Additionally, fruits rich in vitamin C (like oranges and grapefruits) can help prevent inflammatory arthritis. Veggies rich in vitamin K (like broccoli and cabbage) can reduce inflammatory markers in the blood.
Olive oil: Olive oil contains heart-healthy fats that can help reduce inflammation and reduce pain sensitivity.
Beans: Beans like kidney beans and pinto beans are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Beans are also rich in fiber and phytonutrients, which reduce inflammation markers in the blood and protein, which is good for muscle health.
Whole grains: Eating food made with whole grains can reduce inflammation and help you maintain a healthy weight.
On the other hand, some foods may increase inflammation and trigger an arthritis flare. Here are some worst foods for arthritis:
Added sugars: Foods with added sugars, such as candy and ice cream, have been found to worsen RA symptoms.
Processed and red meat: Processed and red meat can increase inflammation and other arthritis symptoms. They demonstrate high levels of inflammatory markers, such as CRP.
Processed foods: Highly processed foods like fast food and breakfast cereal can not only harm your health and weight but are rich in inflammatory ingredients that worsen arthritis symptoms.
Alcohol: Alcohol can increase arthritis symptoms, especially for those with inflammatory arthritis such as RA and gout.
Some vegetable oils: Vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, worsening OA, and RA symptoms.
Foods high in sodium: High-sodium foods like sugar and canned soup may make arthritis more severe and may put you more at risk for RA.
Foods high in AGEs: Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are found in foods like french fries, American cheese, bacon, boiled hot dogs, and mayonnaise. A build-up of AGEs in the body can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, which is linked to the progression of arthritis.
What Causes Arthritis Flare-Ups?
An arthritis flare is a period when the disease is more active, and symptoms worsen. Sometimes, during flares, it seems like medication and other methods of managing the arthritis don’t seem to be working. This can make all aspects of everyday living much harder.
The reason these flares occur varies by disease. We’ll walk you through the triggers for both OA and RA flares.
Osteoarthritis Flare Triggers
Because osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, it can be hard to tell if periods of worsening symptoms are a flare or disease progression. Be sure to talk to your doctor if a flare seems to be lasting longer than usual.
Some common triggers for OA flare-ups include:
- Overdoing an activity
- Joint trauma
- Bone spurs
- Repetitive motion
- Cold weather
- A change in barometric pressure
- Weight gain
Rheumatoid arthritis Flare Triggers
RA flares can vary in intensity, duration, and frequency because they are caused by natural changes in what drives inflammation in the body. If treated in time, though, these flares can be reversed.
Is there a Cure for Arthritis?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. The main goal of treatment is to minimize pain, inflammation, and other symptoms. In the case of inflammatory arthritis, if you start treating the disease immediately, you can go into remission. The key is to begin treatment as soon as you’re diagnosed and to stick to your treatment plan once you find what works for you.
What Experts Say About Managing Arthritis
Arthritis is a condition that can be difficult to handle. We reached out to various physical therapists, medical advisors, doctors, and more to get their feedback, expert opinion, and ways they help their patients overcome arthritis.
- Stay active: Low-impact aerobic exercises are an excellent choice for people with arthritis. They don't stress the joints while providing enough activity for managing arthritis pain and your overall health. Consider taking yoga classes or do stretches to protect your range of motion.
Balance exercises are also very helpful, especially for people prone to falling. Incorporate backward walking, standing on one foot, or enroll in a tai chi class. Water workouts are also fantastic for arthritis because water absorbs the stress on your joints. Swimming or water aerobics are great options.
- Start slow with activity: While staying active is one of the most important factors in managing arthritis, it's essential to gradually build your stamina and endurance. Do as much as your body allows you. If you start feeling pain, modify the activity to exclude the areas that hurt the most. Listen to your body signals.
- Keep your weight in check: The bigger your body mass, the more strain on the joints. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will help you manage your weight. If you have difficulties finding the best way to manage your weight - including diet and type of exercise, consider taking a self-management education workshop.
- Relieve pain by using hot or cold treatments: Hot treatments can help you relieve joint pain by easing the stiffness. Long, warm showers or baths during the day and electric blankets can provide pleasant warmth for your stiff joints during the night.
Cold treatments can help you manage the pain in your inflamed, swollen joints. Press a bag with frozen peas or a frozen gel compress on the achy joint shortly.
- Explore herbal supplements: Although not enough scientific research has been conducted, many people with arthritis find that herbal supplements help them manage pain. Stinging nettle, turmeric, Boswellia, devil's claw, bromelain are just some options that help patients suffering from arthritis.
- Talk to your doctor regularly: Update your doctor with your condition's development and ask them to help you determine the best diet and type of exercise. It would be best if you'd keep them in the loop. Let them know about the things you've tried and whether they were successful in your pain management.
Tsao-Lin E. Moy, L.Ac., MSOM
Certified in Sports Medicine Acupuncture ® , Fertility Specialist, Anti-aging and Sexual Energy Healing
Addressing arthritis works best with an integrative approach, looking at sleep, diet, exercise, stress levels, and underlying health conditions that continue to perpetuate inflammation that sets up in the joints will keep recurring.
Practical advice for handling and improving arthritis:
- Sleep deep and restorative 7-8 hours:
Sleep is how the body and brain power down and go into restorative mode. Lack of sleep can cause other body functions and inflammations to occur that can then lead to ischemic death (cell death).
During the stages of sleep the body produces growth hormone (hGH). Low levels of growth hormone are linked to health issues such as fatigue, depression, mental fogginess and chronic pain. These symptoms are correlated with patients that have fibromyalgia and also have low levels of growth hormone.
Growth hormone plays a role in repair of muscle, bone and the regulation of a variety or metabolic function including fat metabolism.
Consciously do a body check and relaxation exercise to strengthen the mind body connection so that I can address any imbalances or aches.
- Stress relieving exercises, such as meditation: When you are stressed, the body releases stress hormones and other chemicals that trigger the nervous system into the fight or flight and inflammation. Mindfulness meditation can help bring calm and helps relieve inflammation in the whole body.
- Yoga and tai chi are mind body exercises that combine, mindfulness, movement, breathing, balance, stretching and coordination. They also address core strength and can be done by anyone.
Mobility and restoration of strength and function
- Exercise and movement: It is important to move your body for overall well being and keep ourselves coordinated and balanced. Exercise and movement helps to keep the muscle and tissue that support our joints to stay healthy. Studies show the benefits to exercise improves, sleep, mental, overall health and improves arthritis.
Walking every day is a way to start. Work with a physical therapist or physiatrists that can give you specific exercises to target particular joints and you can measure improvement.
The use of manual therapy. Mobilization, stretching along with strengthening exercises. Herbal and essential oils also can continue to relieve local inflammation..
- Acupuncture and acupressure: According to an NIH study one of the crucial benefits of acupuncture is that it can facilitate the release of certain neuropeptides in the central nervous system (CNS), eliciting profound physiological effects and even activating self-healing mechanisms. Acupuncture has also shown to provide immediate analgesic effect on pain, an increase in circulation and helps with tissue regeneration.
In addition more acupuncture research has shown to help with immune regulation and an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Studies have shown it to be beneficial in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis, because of the anti-inflammatory effect, antioxidative effect and regulation of immune system function.
Extensive studies show acupuncture is very effective at treating pain and chronic pain conditions such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain.
- Exercise, especially non-aggravating exercise that takes the involved joint through its range of motion, has been shown to be beneficial in those with osteoarthritis.
- Manual therapy, for example mobilization, when provided by a trained health professional (e.g. chiropractor or physical therapist), can be effective for decreasing pain and increasing range of motion.
- Weight loss is beneficial, as it reduces the stress on weight bearing joints of the lower extremity (e.g. the knee and hip).
- The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), should be discouraged in favor of the aforementioned conservative options. In addition to complications from their use (e.g. gastrointestinal problems), NSAIDs may actually accelerate the progression of osteoarthritis in certain joints, for example the hip.
It is well recognized that chronic (long term) pain and depression are intertwined, so it is absolutely vital that an arthritis sufferer finds an activity they enjoy doing and CAN do regularly to help both the mind and body.
Everyone knows they SHOULD be doing regular activity but when you are faced with an increase in pain it must be a huge barrier to move more. Therefore if you love swimming, go swimming, if you enjoy walking then go walking but I also advocate mixing things up, so as you are swimming try a different stroke to normal, doggy paddle is a great stroke for adults to try! or when walking try a few sideways steps or longer steps than usual every now and then to encourage different areas of the body to be worked, which will ultimately help manage the arthritis.
As most arthritis is a hidden illness a massive part of the problem people face is the irregularity of the pain. The over activity/under activity cycle when pain levels are ok/poor really doesn't help long term management so forming good movement habits at home is key. I am a huge advocate of doing what you do but differently. So when you are sitting down watching your favorite Netflix series why not try squeezing your bottom cheeks together wherever you see the lead character! If you are walking to the toilet why not try walking backwards (be safe) or when on the toilet why not twist the opposite way to normal to wipe!! All these ideas serve to move the body in a different way to normal which is ultimately brilliant for the muscles and joints affected by arthritis. Movement variety is key in arthritis but always start little and often and see how your body responds before starting too many changes.
An anti-inflammatory diet is an ideal diet for those living with RA. This is primarily due to arthritis being an inflammatory condition a diet rich in inflammatory foods can have significant implications. There are three primary food-types that should be avoided or reduced in the RA patient's diet; refined carbs and sugar, gluten, , and preservatives. Refined carbs and gluten are both highly inflammatory and can both trigger an arthritis flare or exacerbate the pain of a current flare up. One preservative in particular, monosodium glutamate (MSG), is a chemical added to many processed foods that is known to trigger arthritis flares as well.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease it is easily exacerbated by consuming inflammatory foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar, and gluten. These foods and nutrients can create chronic inflammation of the body, especially the joints for RA patients, and can lead to painful flare ups of the condition. These food types are typically easily accessible processed convenience foods which are heavily relied upon in today's standard American diet, even those foods that claim to be healthy. By replacing these with unprocessed whole foods the RA patient can better mitigate their symptoms and reduce the likelihood of flare ups.
- Motion is Lotion: Quite simply one of the best ways to treat stiff arthritic joints is to keep them moving. Spending all day sitting or standing in one position is about the worst thing you can do for arthritis. Keeping the body active helps move the "joint juice" or synovial fluid in the joint. This fluid helps keep motions smooth and prevents structures from "sticking." In arthritis, this fluid can be harder to move around because the cartilage starts to wear down, making it look like "swiss cheese." The fluid can get stuck in the holes, and therefore make movement difficult. But remaining active will help circulate the fluid and prevent it from sitting in one spot.
- Mobilize your Joints: Joint mobilization is different from normal motion. Joint mobilization is a technique used to manual glide the bones within the joint space to help stretch the joint capsule and other structures. This technique is best achieved when a professional, such as a physical therapist, applies the manual forces externally. By mobilizing the joint, it will then allow the muscles to move through more range of motion, allowing the joint to work at its full capacity. When we have arthritis, the joint can stiffen and motion is lost. But with a mobilization technique, motion can be regained and the muscles can be retrained to move through the new range. This will make the joints feel less painful and stiff.
- Unload your joints: When we have arthritis the bones in the joints are closer together. Traction, or pulling them gently apart can unload the joint. This will help increase the fluid circulation, allow the bones to move smoothly, and help relieve pain. Traction can be done in many ways. One common technique used in physical therapy is long axis traction, when the PT literally pulls the leg while the person is lying on their back. This opens the joint and usually immediately provides pain relief. This traction can also be mimicked by walking in a pool with a floater belt. Letting the legs hang down while moving the legs in a walking motion can also often give relief of pain and stiffness.
- Don't Push Past Severe Pain: There is some truth in the statement, "no pain, no gain" but that is not always the case. When exercising with arthritis, pain may initially be felt in the beginning, but over a few minutes the pain should start to improve. If the pain continues or worsens, one should immediately stop the exercise. This pain could indicate a more acute injury within the joint and further inflammation in the area will worsen both the pain and the arthritis.
Start with topical medications such as Bengay or Tiger balm something with menthol plus salicylate (Aspirin).
If that doesn’t cut it I’d step up to a topical NSAID either a prescription for Voltaren gel (diclofenac) or this can be found now over the counter.
Tylenol would be the next logical medication to try. I’d recommend extra strength at least 650 mg but up to 1000 mg per dose, not to exceed 2000 mg in a day. Some natural remedies that may also help include Tumeric, Cinnamon, and Fish oils which all have anti-inflammatory properties. Also over the counter, one can try NSAIDs such as Aleve or Ibuprofen. With these, I’d suggest the lowest dose for the shortest duration as they do have side effects such as excess bleeding, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, electrolyte disturbances, and kidney problems to name a few.
Other things you could try would be numbing medicines like lidocaine patches or ointments, these can also be found as a prescription-strength through your medical provider. The numbing medicines work especially well for back pain. Before turning to opiate pain medicines such as morphine or something stronger one could try prescription strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Celecoxib which might be a little bit safer than the over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, however still pose risks. Also there are adjunct pain medicines that are prescription strength such as Neurontin or Cymbalta to name a few. These work especially well for neuropathy type pain (shooting numbing electricity like) along with a prescription strength hot pepper ointment called Capsaicin that can be rubbed on.
Other remedies your doctor may be willing to try include mild immunomodulator‘s such as methotrexate, or even steroids like prednisone. It is also wise to work with your doctor to make sure you don’t have some thing else besides typical arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or lupus arthritis.
Lastly, sometimes if it’s a single joint that’s affected, a simple shot of steroid steroid plus a numbing agent or even things like platelet rich plasma injections may be options. It’s always essential to speak with your physician or provider about all the options the risks and benefits of each and individualized therapy to meet your needs.
When your body starts attacking its own joints, the resulting inflammation and pain are more than frustrating, the physical and mental side effects are often downright defeating. Although this chronic autoimmune disorder can’t be cured, the good news is that there are ways to manage the pain and other resulting issues. In addition to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, your physician may recommend steroids or other prescriptions to help ease the pain. Icing inflamed joints or applying a hot pack can also help reduce the associated discomfort. You may also find that massage and exercise help to relieve arthritis pain, talk to your doctor about creating a workout and massage routine that works for you.
Arthritis has mental health side effects as well as physical side effects, a fact that is too often overlooked. The first step in conquering negative emotions or depression associated with arthritis is to educate yourself about the disease and get it into remission. This helps stave off some of the original feelings of helplessness that are common with a new diagnosis. If you still experience depression as the result of immobility and changes to lifestyle, talk to your doctor about anti-depressants and therapy.
Generally, coping with arthritis is best accomplished with professional advice. Every patient’s symptoms and pain are unique, so your treatment plan should be just as personalized.
My advice for arthritic seniors is not neglect their body's need for exercise. Arthritis has a large correlation with sedentary lifestyles, and with it comes deconditioning and weakening of muscles and bones. Joints become arthritis because the body lacks muscular strength to stabilize and reinforce the joint. Without this active reinforcement, joints wear down faster and arthritis pain worsens. So my best advice is to keep the body strong by dedicating time each day to exercise and resistance training. If this seems too painful and difficult, enlist a physical therapist to gradually increase your exercise progression gradually. Every ounce of prevention counts.
Poor posture is the leading underlying cause as well as aggravating cause of many daily damages such as: Muscle Fatigue, Sprains/Strains, Joint Changes (arthritic changes), Nerve Irritation ( pain/ numbness & tingling/ neuropathy) Skeletal Changes ( reverse neck/text neck & Disc injuries/ Bone Spurs) and early degenerative arthritic changes to the body.
It is always important to take care of your posture. Many people do not pay attention to that of their body. The main thing I can recommend is to change your habits that affect your posture.
For example, always make sure to sit at a 90 degree angle while working on your computer, sit up straight and invest in a posture corrector. With every inch you slouch you add 10 pounds of pressure on your spine.
Arthritic pain can be greatly improved with acupuncture care. By increasing the circulation of blood and reducing inflammation, acupuncture causes a relaxation in achy joints. Many insurance plans now cover acupuncture.
Home care advice for arthritic pain is all about keeping it warm-- from hot baths to foot soaks warming up arthritic joints also increases circulation and reduces pain. Try a simple soak with Epsom salts- about 1/2 cup in a bucket of warm water, you can add essential oils like marjoram and lavender of 3 drops of each to make it feel even better. Soak arthritic feet or hands in the warm water for 15 minutes.
Another option for home care is diet- reduce inflammatory foods to help arthritic pain. Sugar is one of the top inflammatory foods and found in everything. Consider checking labels for added sugar and stick to whole foods over processed for reduced inflammation and less pain in your joints.
About the Author
Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing.
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