Learn how to live with your osteoarthritis on a daily basis. What measures can you adopt? What aspects of your life should you modify? The following sections will provide you with some tips and information to help you better understand your osteoarthritis and how it affects your life.
Resting your joints is important, but physical exercise is essential if you suffer from osteoarthritis.
As long as you are not going through an osteoarthritic flare-up, exercising will help increase your flexibility, thus relieving pain and tension, and can avoid further joint injury. It will also help you lose excess weight, reducing the added strain on your weight-bearing joints.
By exercising, you will reinforce the muscles and tendons around your joints, thereby helping your affected joints sustain shock or trauma from the movements of strenuous activity. Furthermore, if for instance you fall, your affected joint will be more resistant if it is supported by strong muscles.
These are the types of exercises you can perform if you suffer from osteoarthritis:
- Motion exercises (e.g. gently drawing circles with your arms) help reduce joint stiffness and improve your flexibility.
- Stretching and muscle strengthening exercises (e.g. using elastic bands and light weights), as well as activities such as swimming, walking, aerobics and cycling, help reinforce the muscles around your joints and increase the elasticity of your tendons.
Before you start any of these exercises however, it is necessary to seek advice from your doctor to avoid potential injury from ill-adapted activities.
Here is what you should avoid if you suffer from osteoarthritis:
- If you already practise a sport, make sure it is not one that might further harm your joints. You may keep up a sports activity without damage to your joints, provided you use appropriate techniques and equipment.
- Again, if you practise a sport regularly, avoid modifying your normal exercise routine, as an abrupt change in intensity or duration could harm your joints. Remember to always start and end your exercise routine slowly, to allow your body to gradually warm up and gently wind down. Again, this will avoid any sudden trauma to your joints.
- Intensive sports can put you at greater risk of cartilage and joint damage, due to repeated impact and frequent injuries. These typically include gymnastics, dance, field and ball games, skiing, horse riding, etc., and should be avoided at any sign of pain, particularly back pain.
Remember to rest and relax your muscles when possible, as this will help reduce the pain around the inflamed joint.
Here are ways you can relax:
- Focus on your breathing and how this heightens your awareness of your body.
- Use music to help you relax.
- Take time and learn how to meditate.
- Escape into your own world of well-being where you can imagine you are practising activities you enjoy in an idyllic setting.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis of a weight-bearing joint, such as the knee or the hip, dieting could help you lose some excess weight to relieve those joints. However, remember to always consult your doctor before you start a diet.
Monitoring your osteoarthritis is also part of your responsibility.
It is essential that you:
- Visit your doctor if, during your self-evaluation, you notice any unusual change or a deterioration of your condition.
- Go for an X-ray used for monitoring osteoarthritis in a correct way.
- Take your treatment as prescribed by your doctor; Make a note of the name and dosage of your treatment.
When you suffer from osteoarthritis, you may find that you have good days and bad days, based on the level of pain or discomfort you feel. This often has a significant impact on your overall mood and morale.
During periods of chronic or severe pain, every day activities may become a chore and your outlook on life can appear very gloomy. You might also feel discouraged when the people around you do not understand the pain you are going through.
The following tips aim to help you better understand how osteoarthritis can often have a strong impact on your mental well-being and how you can overcome these negative effects.
"There is not much you can do about osteoarthritis, but I cope."
This is a good reaction as it shows that you are not allowing your osteoarthritis to take over your life. On the other hand, do not be defeatist as osteoarthritis is not altogether inevitable. It may not be curable, but there are many ways to treat and reduce the associated pain so that you can maintain a good quality of life. You can read more on this in sections "Everyday advice" and "Treatments".
"Use a cane, not on your life, it makes you look too old."
A cane, or any other form of support such as an umbrella, can be very effective in both helping you walk if you are in pain and reducing some of the weight on your affected joint.
If you’ve never walked with a cane before, try using it around the house to get accustomed to it. You will rapidly appreciate the benefits of relieving some of that pain.
"I enjoy taking care of my grandchildren, I do hope I can continue doing so."
This is naturally a concern for all grandparents who want to enjoy spending time with their grandchildren. While you might not be able to perform all those energy-intensive activities that children often enjoy, there are plenty of milder activities, adapted to your condition, which will allow you to fully appreciate your family life.
"The worst thing would be to become dependent on other people"
The idea of losing your independence is of course a real source of anxiety when you have been used to leading an active life.
There are ways you can adapt your home to maintain your autonomy as much as possible and make your daily activities simpler. You can read more information on this topic in the section "everyday advice", which will provide you with advice on ways of staying as independent as possible.
"There is not much you can do about osteoarthritis, it comes with ageing."
Once again, osteoarthritis is not an inevitability and it is not an ageing disease. While age may indeed be partly responsible for the wear and tear of cartilage and joints, osteoarthritis is a recognised disease which does not depend on the ageing process. Various unrelated events can trigger the onset of osteoarthritis. You can read more on this subject in the section "Risk factors".
While there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, there are ways of effectively treating the pain and ensuring you maintain a good quality of life. You can read more about this in sections "Everyday advice" and "Treatments".
"I would like to continue looking after my grandchildren, but sometimes ..."
Naturally, you want to cherish these moments with your grandchildren as they bring you such joy and can even help you forget about your pain. However, you might end up suffering the consequences of energetic activity over following days. If you want to avoid pain, try choosing activities that are better adapted to your condition. Think of talking to your doctor who can advise you on suitable activities.
"At the office in the beginning everyone understood that I was not there because of my illness, but in the long term, I fear that my colleagues will get tired of it."
It can indeed be difficult to live with osteoarthritis when you feel that those around you do not understand your disease or the pain you are going through. It might be helpful to talk to your colleagues and employer about osteoarthritis. They will become more aware and will be better informed to help you work around your difficulties where possible.
"I know that I bore my husband for never wanting to go out but I'm so afraid of being in pain.”
It is true that even the people closest to you might not fully grasp the extent of your pain.
It may be helpful if you choose the activities you feel you can enjoy without suffering. This will invariably help you and your loved ones fully appreciate these shared moments.
You can read more on practical tips in the section "Everyday advice".
"I'm afraid of ending up in a wheelchair."
You may believe you are on a steady downward hill, but be confident that you will not end up in a wheelchair because of your osteoarthritis. The chronic characteristic of osteoarthritis does not mean that you will automatically suffer from unavoidable joint deterioration. Much of your pain and joint stiffness can be treated, medically or surgically.