As you age, activities that used to be effortless — walking, knitting, picking up keiki — may become difficult due to stiff, swollen, painful joints. If this sounds familiar, you may have arthritis affecting one or more joints. It’s a disease that takes many forms.
If you have arthritis, you’re not alone; the Hawaii chapter of the Arthritis Foundation estimates there are 218,000 people with arthritis in our state. The type most often associated with kupuna is osteoarthritis, which is typically caused by wear and tear over time.
Although arthritis has no cure, there are ways to relieve the pain it may cause.
The following tips can help you manage your condition and keep your mobility.
CONTROL YOUR WEIGHT
Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce wear and tear on joints, a frequent cause of arthritis flares.
A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, like omega-3-rich salmon, turmeric, curcumin and soy products, can make a big difference. Avoid processed foods high in sugar and refined carbs, which can promote inflammation.
For osteoarthritis, getting enough calcium and vitamin D (which aids in calcium absorption) are particularly important. Both nutrients can be found in dairy products as well as dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli.
Broccoli also contains sulforaphane, which research suggests may slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Some arthritis sufferers avoid exercise altogether, but several types of exercise are crucial to any arthritis management regimen. Building stronger, more resilient muscles through strength training can reduce the load on joints and slow the progress of arthritis.
Stretching activities like yoga can help increase your range of motion, while aerobic exercises release endorphins that lift your mood and combat fatigue.
Choose active pursuits that won’t stress affected joints too much, like swimming, walking and stretching. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
MANAGE STRESS AND EMOTIONS
Arthritis symptoms can flare during periods of stress or depression.
Take care of your spirit by staying active and involved in your community, spending time in nature and practicing meditation or integrative mind-body exercises like tai chi and yoga. Several yoga studios in Hawaii offer courses specifically for seniors.
Get enough quality sleep, which boosts emotional resilience and improves your overall health. If you have trouble sleeping, try banning electronic devices (television, smart phones, etc.) from the bedroom at night, and avoid vigorous exercise within two hours of bedtime.
Simple changes to your lifestyle can help reduce pain, swelling and other symptoms. Using physical supports like canes, braces and shoe inserts can take a load off your joints while helping you maintain your daily activities. Assistive equipment, such as raised toilet seats or levered faucets that you don’t need to grip can also be useful.
Talk to your doctor about treating your arthritis symptoms with medication.
Hot or cold packs may also be a good option if you’re looking to improve joint comfort and range of motion.
Over-the-counter options range from topical medications like capsaicin, which disrupts pain signals, topical anti-inflammatories, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and oral anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Be sure to consult with your physician before beginning any pharmaceutical arthritis management, even if your medications are available over the counter.
Arthritis symptoms can vary from hour to hour or day to day.
Be aware of how you’re feeling and adjust expectations and plans accordingly. Get to know your capabilities, incorporate periods of rest and recovery and plan activities around your best times.
With care and attention, you can make sure that living with arthritis still means living your best life.