Arthritis – inflammation of one or more joints.
There are many factors that affect your joints, and to really truly learn to manage arthritis, you have to learn how to manage those factors. We are going to go over a few factors, how they impact your pain, and how you can reduce it.
1. Your weight.
If you are a normal weight, you can stop reading and skip to #2. However, if you need to make some improvements, you need to listen to the next statement. For every 20% loss of weight, symptoms/function improve by 50%. You can take all the meds, physical therapy, shots, and even have the replacement surgery, but if you continue to ignore your weight issue, you will difficulty with function.
2. Your food.
Did you know there are foods that increase the inflammatory response in your body? I’m not just talking about salt. Foods such as vegetable oil, sugar (and sugar additives), processed meats, fried food/fast food, and saturated fat have been proven to create a chronic inflammatory response in your body. As you probably already made the correlation, these foods also increase your risk for obesity.
There is SO much information out there on what you should eat, what diet is best, foods to avoid, etc. If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, I always suggest seeing a dietitian or a nutritionist. Most insurances cover 1-2 visits a year, and they will help you get on the right track for what foods are appropriate for you!
3. Your posture.
This is my role in managing osteoarthritis. How you stand, sit, squat, and move directly impacts the forces that are being places on your joints. Too much pressure in one area over time will break down the bone and cause….you guessed it – osteoarthritis. Yes, there is a genetic component, there are some people that are “more prone” to developing arthritis, but underlying neuromuscular patterns drive the load on the joints.
Physical therapy, personal training, pilates, and yoga can all be very effective in improving your posture without increasing your pain. I perform full body postural exams to look at how your spine, ribcage and pelvis are applying load to your joints. The position of those structures will determine how your shoulders, knees, and hips are being used in your day to day movements. Doing 10-15 minutes of corrective exercises a few times a week will help prevent further pressure, breakdown, and damage and relieve your pain symptoms.
4. Your activity level
Everywhere you see osteoarthritis treatment, you always see “You have to walk!” right afterwards. Yes, walking is good. Yes, walking can help you lose weight. But you are going to have to walk ALOT for A LONG TIME to get the results you want to. Walking does not equal strengthening. What are you doing to strengthening your abdominals? What are you doing to strength your glutes? What are you doing to improve your squat?
In order to OFFLOAD your painful joints, you have to learn to LOAD other ones. Strength training is a key element to do this. Walking helps. Corrective exercise helps. But to get to where you can do more life activities, you have to do more. I recommend personal training/small group training. You need someone who understands joint loading and can teach you how to move correctly. You don’t have to go forever. You have to go enough to get the information you need to help yourself.
5. Your brain.
Last, but arguably the most important, is your mental health. Chronic pain has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental problems. In order for you to get to a place where you can make the changes you need to in your life to manage your pain, you may need to lean on people to help you on your journey.
Counseling and therapy can help you get to that place. As a previous patient for cognitive behavior therapy to help treat my anxiety during pregnancy, I will say that it was difficult, but it was hands down the best thing I could have done for myself to help address my problems, including back pain, when I was pregnant. They can add perspective you’ve never thought about and give you the steps you need to get to your end goal.
There is no “one thing” you can do to manage osteoarthritis.
There, I said it. I’m sorry y’all. There is no quick fix for this. If you want the best results for your life, you can’t just do a little bit. People that fail conservative management typically on do 1-2 of these tasks. If you truly want the best results, you have to look at all the factors you can influence to get them. Notice I said, “you can influence.” We can’t change your family history, or your previous football injury from high school. But if you can maintain a health mind, diet, weight, and activity level, most people have significant improvement in their symptoms.