Osteoarthritis: 6 tips to make living easier

A diagnosis of arthritis can be intimidating. More than half a million New Zealanders are living with arthritis. It is a serious health condition with no known cure and the leading cause of disability in our country.

There are over 140 different forms of arthritis, with the most common being Osteoarthritis, Gout and Rheumatoid arthritis. 305,000 New Zealand adults suffer from Osteoarthritis, with pain described as “having grinding and shattering jagged pieces of glass between your joints”. In Osteoarthritis, the cartilage on each end of a joint bone has been worn away leaving bone rubbing on bone. The bone can change shape and pieces of cartilage can break off and float around the joint. This leads to restriction of movement, pain and inflammation as the disease progresses.

Although there is no cure for Osteoarthritis, the good news is that you can help yourself make living with arthritis easier. Here are six ways:

1. Exercise

A well designed exercise program can help to reduce pain and increase movement and overall fitness. Great exercises include Tai Chi, walking, swimming and hydrotherapy.

2. Keep warm

Keep yourself warm in winter with clothing, blankets and heating. Also, warming a stiff and sore joint can help get you moving, while applying cold to an inflamed area will help to decrease inflammation.

3. Accept help

Ask and accept offers of help when needed. Also, home aids such as jar openers, stocking aids and car seat turntables can make every day activities less of a burden and reduce the strain on joints. 

4. Eat anti-inflammatory foods

A major factor in arthritis is inflammation causing pain, swelling, heat and redness. Foods may be helpful as natural painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Try onions, garlic, ginger, olives, nuts, oily fish and be liberal with the spice turmeric. Oily fish have high levels of EPA and DHA which may reduce pain and inflammation. If you are taking omega-3 supplements, look for a brand that provides at least 800mg of each. Foods rich in vitamin C may help develop cartilage, vitamin D may decrease the narrowing of joint spacing and calcium increases bone density. Zinc in high doses can have anti-inflammatory effects. The best foods are those that help alkalinize the blood and include nuts, seeds and lemons - a lovely hot water and lemon drink in the morning is a great start to the day. The most wonderful thing to drink to combat arthritis is apple cider vinegar with water, honey or apple juice.

Changing to a diet low in inflammatory foods can improve symptoms and quality of life. Find out if you have any sensitivities to foods that may be causing an inflammatory reaction in your body. Many people are intolerant to gluten and acidic foods such as tomatoes and oranges seem to worsen arthritis symptoms. Avoid alcohol. Increase the protein and decrease high GI carbohydrates in your diet by eating wholegrain foods. Increase flavonoids from fruit and vegetables.

5. Get your digestion working as well as possible

Our digestion is crucial to our general health and especially important in inflammatory conditions. If food is not digested properly, proteins don’t get broken down into amino acids that are needed for the body to function. Undigested proteins are not recognized by our defense systems so our immune system tries to fight them, causing inflammation and our own tissues being attacked. If you are interested in improving your digestion, read our Wellbeing solution for healthy digestion.

6. Get relief from medicines and supplements

It is estimated that 60% of people with arthritis have used, or are using, complementary therapies and they can be helpful if tailored to you. Start with topical rubs such as Zostrix and paracetamol to give a base line of pain relief. Paracetamol works by stopping pain messages being passed to the brain and best results are seen with regular dosing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work at the site of the injury to interrupt the body’s chemical cascade which would normally lead to heat, swelling, pain and redness at the site. These are often added to paracetamol if pain relief is not adequate but come with many side effects. Natural anti-inflammatories such as glucosamine, turmeric, zinc, MSM and omega-3 oils are worth looking into as an alternative. It is important to discuss your condition with your Doctor and let him/her know of any products you may be taking.

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