If you are living with severe arthritis you will know what a debilitating condition it is. In the early stages, arthritis causes joint stiffness, some pain and a decline in mobility. But, as the disease progresses it leads to worsening pain, which can become severe, and a loss of function which can affect your ability to live a normal life. For this reason, severe arthritis is sometimes accompanied by anxiety and depression as people struggle to do the things they’ve always done and to cope with chronic pain.
Take action to manage arthritis
As we begin the New Year – albeit it with some continuation of the challenges we faced last year due to Covid – our message to people with arthritis is to take action to manage their condition this year. There are a number of different ways you can do this, depending on the nature and severity of the arthritis you have. The first step is always to get an accurate diagnosis so you understand your condition and the likely prognosis.
Lifestyle changes for arthritis
In the early stages, introducing some positive lifestyle changes can help to reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
- Eat a healthy diet: One of the ways you can do this is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. This can not only help you to achieve (and maintain) a healthy weight which avoids putting pressure on damaged joints but may also help to reduce the side effects of certain drugs prescribed for arthritis. Avoiding particular foods may be helpful for some types of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis. Problem foods for people with this condition may include citrus fruits, gluten and vegetables from the nightshade family (including potatoes, peppers and aubergines). Some foods can also increase inflammation in the body so people with arthritis may want to avoid sugar (which can trigger the release of cytokines), saturated fat found in processed red meat and dairy and omega-6 fatty acids found in some vegetable oils. Other foods, such as broccoli which contains sulforaphane, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and slow the progress of osteoarthritis.
- Avoid too much alcohol: Not only can alcohol increase the risk of side effects from some medications but it is also linked to stomach, digestive and liver problems. If you suffer from gout, which is a form of arthritis, drinking alcohol may bring on an attack. Alcohol in excess can reduce bone growth which may increase the chance of a fracture, particularly if you suffer from osteoporosis.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking is one of the factors that leads to a build up of cholesterol in the blood which can block blood vessels and may lead to heart problems. Eating fatty foods and lack of exercise are also linked to high cholesterol.
- Look after your feet: this is particularly important with rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune condition that increases the chances of developing problems with your feet. In any type of arthritis, the right footwear can reduce the strain on the joints in your ankles, knees, hips and back.
- Get enough sleep: This is important as a good night sleep helps you to manage pain more effectively, increases your immunity and allows your body time to repair tissue damage. It is also vital for your mental wellbeing as a lack of sleep can increase feelings of anxiety, low mood or depression.
- Do things that make you feel good: One of the impacts of arthritis is the way it affects emotional wellbeing. Staying active and exercising regularly is not only good for your emotional wellbeing but it also helps to keep joints supple and improves flexibility. Try to keep up with the activities you enjoy, even if it means having to make some adaptations to cope with your arthritis symptoms. And stay connected with family and friends which, right now, might have to be online or via the phone.
Treatment for arthritis
As well as making changes to your lifestyle, there are many different types of treatment available for arthritis which are highly effective and improving constantly. Arthritis is a progressive condition, which means it worsens over time. Your consultant will advise on the best options for you depending on the type of arthritis you have and how advanced the condition is. Treatments include:
- Painkilling medication, drugs and electronic pain relief (TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) which administers mild electrical currents to the skin to relieve pain.
- Splints to support weak and damaged joints.
- Physiotherapy and occupational therapy which can help relieve symptoms and show you how to adapt everyday activities to reduce pain.
- Surgery: For advanced arthritis, there are various surgical options including joint replacement surgery for the most severe forms of the condition
Whatever form of arthritis you have and however severe your condition, there are positive things you can do to relieve symptoms by making changes yourself and there are many effective forms of treatment available, from pain relieving drugs through to life-changing surgery. There is no need for anyone to suffer in silence. Talk to us about your condition and we can help you to create a plan to help you manage your arthritis more effectively in 2021.
Orthopaedic consultant and surgeon | Dublin
Joseph Queally specialises in the treatment of knee, hip and ankle conditions, including all types of arthritis. If you are experiencing joint pain, contact us for a diagnosis and advice about non-surgical methods of pain relief as well as a full range of surgical options.
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Beacon Centre for Orthopaedics
T: + 353 1 293 7575
Beacon Court, Bracken Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Sandyford, Dublin 18
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