Here our osteopath provides advice on how to improve your quality of life will living with Arthritis.
Nutrition and weight management
Contrary to popular belief there is no one diet or type of food that will make arthritis better or worse. Some people think that eating acidic foods such as citrus fruit or foods from the nightshade family of vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet peppers and tomatoes) can make the symptoms of arthritis worse, however, research suggests that there is really no evidence that this is the case. The most important thing you can do if you have arthritis is to eat a well-balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals and keep to a healthy weight.
There is a link between being overweight and developing OA as well as the exacerbation of pain in many joints, especially the knees, hips and feet. If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) or Psoriatic Arthritis (PA), being overweight will mean your arthritis is much less likely to respond to medication and go into remission. Being overweight can also increase the risk of developing gout. The knee is a complex joint. Due to the shape and makeup of the joint, for every 1kg of weight that passes through the knee, 5kg of force passes through the joint. Conversely, reducing your body weight by as little as 5% can reduce pain significantly.
A diet high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may help people with RA or PA, but not Osteoarthritis (OA). There is little convincing evidence to suggest that supplements such as cod liver oil, glucosamine or chondroitin will help with the symptoms of arthritis and these are not recommended in current guidelines.
One of the most common misconceptions about arthritis is that being more physically active is somehow bad for you if you have arthritis and that you should not do exercise, if you have arthritis, as it will inevitably make the pain worse.
In fact, in reality, research tells us that this could not be further from the truth. In fact, one recent study suggested that those that perform moderate exercises 3 times per week are less likely to develop arthritis in the first place compared to those that don’t.
Exercises is important for all of us, regardless of whether we are living with arthritis or not, as it helps us to stay healthy and reduces the risk of developing a number of common health complaints.
In addition, it can be very helpful for the symptoms of arthritis themselves. Strengthening the muscles in the front of the upper leg (the quadriceps) to stabilise and support the knee has been shown to significantly reduce the pain of knee arthritis in many people with arthritis. ESCAPE-Pain (www.escape-pain.org) is an exercise programme that has been proven to reduce pain, improve your ability to perform your normal daily activities and help with some of the psychological consequences of arthritis in the lower limb.
If you do have arthritis but want to become more active you should always consider the type of exercises that you try, start off slowly to begin with, building up gradually as your confidence and ability improves. The two main types of exercises that are recommended for people with arthritis are strengthening exercises and aerobic fitness training, but an osteopath can help you decide which particular type of physical activity would suit you best in order to help you to achieve your goals.
To find out more about the benefits of physical activity and how much you should be aiming for, click here.
Medication and surgery
No one likes taking medication, but most people with arthritis will have been prescribed tablets for their symptoms to reduce pain, or swelling or to control the progression of the condition at some stage. The Charity Arthritis Action provides a factsheet about the commonest medications used by people with arthritis, and this can be found by clicking here.
In some cases, joint replacement surgery may become an option, but there are usually lots of things that you can try before you consider surgery. You will need to improve the strength of the supportive muscles around the joint and your general fitness before you have surgery to ensure the best possible outcome and an osteopath may be able to advise you on the best way to do this. It is also important to have realistic expectations regarding what surgery can achieve and your osteopath can discuss this with you.
For more information, on hip or knee surgery, click here to view a video.
Aids and footwear
Arthritis can cause stiffness, weakness and pain in the joints and this can make performing normal daily activities more difficult for some people. However, these days there are many different types of gadgets and aids available in shops and on the internet that can help you to maintain your independence and manage daily tasks. Click here to read more information.
Pacing, setting goals and managing flare-ups
Some people with arthritis find that their symptoms are exacerbated if they do too much of a certain activity (they have a ‘flair-up’ of symptoms). If this sounds familiar, you may find that breaking tasks down into smaller manageable chunks and having a break in between (‘pacing’) can help.
Emotions and arthritis
The most well-known symptoms of arthritis are pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints. However, arthritis can also affect your mood and emotions. Many people with arthritis describe a sense of isolation, low mood, frustration that they struggle to do some of the things they used to enjoy or take for granted and concerns about the future.
It is important not to ignore these emotions. In this section you can find out about some of the things that some people with arthritis find can help with the psychological symptoms of arthritis:
- Join a social group
- Positive thinking and challenging unhelpful thoughts
- Relaxation, meditation and distraction exercises
(Doing the recommended amount of physical activity each week can result in the release of endorphins, natural pain-killing chemicals that the body produces that can also have a positive effect on your mood. To find out more about the benefits of physical activity, click here.
What if my low mood gets worse?
Living with a painful condition can make most people feel low at times. If however you have been feeling that you have little pleasure in life, have feelings of hopelessness or failure, sleep or eating problems, you may be depressed and not just low. If so, it is important that you seek medical advice because there are lots of things that can help, not necessarily medicines, and if your depression improves, your outlook and control of your arthritis will also improve.
How osteopaths can help
Many people living with arthritis find that manual therapy (such as that performed by an osteopath) can be very effective in treating their symptoms. Gentle massage, stretching and articulation of the joints has been shown to help to reduce pain and stiffness, helping you to perform your daily activities more easily. Your osteopath may also give you exercises for you to perform at home as well as self-management advice regarding nutrition, weight management, posture, balance and changes to lifestyle.
If your symptoms are having a negative effect on your mood, your osteopath may be able to answer any questions you might have about the future progression of the condition and be able to dispel some of the myths you may have heard about arthritis.
They can also request X-rays, scans or other additional investigations from your GP to ensure the best treatment approach for your individual needs.
To find an osteopath near you, click here.