If you've just been diagnosed with arthritis, learning what you can do to minimize the impact of the disease on your life is very important. The first step in doing that is working out an effective medical treatment plan with your doctor, but there are also plenty of things you can do on your own to aid in controlling arthritis symptoms. Of course, no two arthritis sufferers are alike, and there are many forms of the disease, but some simple strategies can help control the symptoms that virtually all have in common: joint inflammation, pain and stiffness.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to work joints that are stiff, sore, and swollen, regular exercise can actually be a very effective tool in controlling those symptoms. Low impact activities such as walking, swimming, bicycling or an exercise class designed for arthritis sufferers can reduce pain and stiffness in your joints, and targeted strength training can build muscles surrounding affected joints, increasing their support and reducing pain.
Slow, gentle daily stretching can make a big difference in your level of pain and stiffness as well as help improve flexibility and range of motion in joints affected by arthritis. Morning is the best time to stretch, since it will help work that characteristic morning stiffness out of your joints. If you're not sure what sort of stretching techniques are safest and most effective for your arthritic joints, a few sessions with a physical therapist can help.
Eat for Relief
While there is no specific diet plan for arthritis, what you eat can make a difference in the severity of your symptoms. Some foods are known to promote inflammation in the body, and since arthritis is an inflammatory disease, that can mean more severe symptoms. Among the foods that you'll want to limit in your diet to reduce inflammation are fried foods, highly-processed packaged or frozen convenience foods, sugars and highly refined carbohydrates – white rice or baked goods and pastas made with white flour, for instance – dairy products, corn oil, and foods that contain a lot of salt and preservatives.
Certain foods can help fight inflammation, so adding more of them to your diet can be helpful in controlling arthritis symptoms. Among these are oily fish, such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, which are rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, olive oil and fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Manage Your Weight
If you're carrying around a few extra pounds, losing them can take a lot of stress off of your weight bearing joints, such as your knees, hips, ankles and back. Reducing stress can also help slow the progressive joint damage that arthritis can cause.
Smoking causes stress to connective tissues, which can increase symptoms and speed progression of the disease. So if you're in the habit, quitting can definitely help in controlling arthritis symptoms. If you're struggling to quit on your own, see your doctor for help or join a smoking cessation program.
While there is no cure for arthritis, with these lifestyle changes and good medical treatment, it doesn't have to take over your life. Doing all you can to aid in controlling arthritis symptoms can make maintaining an active, healthy and satisfying lifestyle easier and help slow disease progression, ensuring that you are managing arthritis rather than letting it manage you.