Arthritis coping strategies

Exercise as a pain reliever

Arthritis is a broad term that serves as an encompassing diagnosis for over 100 different joint affected disorders. These disorders are categorized into two major groups: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. The two most common arthritis diagnoses are osteoarthritis (OA), which is non-inflammatory, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is inflammatory. In general, arthritis patients complain of stiffness, pain and loss of joint function, as well as an overall decrease in morale and self-efficacy. Fortunately, research shows that physical activity can lessen the depression and anxiety associated with arthritis and can potentially have the pain-relieving effects similar to pharmaceutical treatments.

On the other hand, the disorder’s complications often render the patient unable to adhere to an aerobic exercise regiment. A physician can properly assess cases on an individual basis according to their arthritis inflammatory/noninflammatory category and prescribe an appropriate physical activity intervention plan. Studies have proven that the most successful exercise types have been “low-intensity isokinetic training and physical training, intermediate intensity circuit training, and high intensity strength training.”

There are four major evidence based exercise programs proven to assist arthritis patients. The first two, the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program and the Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Program, are both offered in the Northeast Missouri region. The exercise program boasts benefits of an increase in joint function and overall self-efficacy, as well as a decrease in depression. The aquatic program boasts an impressive “18% decrease in pain, 25% increase in functional ability, fewer physician visits, and a better perceived quality of life” among participants with OA and RA. Participants in the last two programs, EnhanceFitness and Active Living Everyday, enjoy benefits similar to those of the Arthritis Foundation’s programs.

Exercise is an effective method of arthritis pain management for seven important reasons. The first reason is that stretching exercises encourage greater flexibility for tight and achy arthritic joints. The second reason is that strength training will tone muscles that can serve as joint stabilizers and protectors. The third reason is that proper interventions like doing aquatic exercises, walking, cycling, and dancing serve as natural painkillers. The fourth reason is that exercise indirectly decreases back pain due to the weight loss that is a result of vigorous exercises. The fifth reason is that exercise boosts energy levels in those suffering from RA, therefore combating the fatigue normally associated with the disorder. The sixth reason is that exercise is beneficial for your mind as well as your body. Many who successfully participate in exercise programs experience an increase in confidence which carries over into other facets of their lives and gives them the motivation to stay active. Finally, exercise strengthens your bones and prevents osteoporosis, which is a disorder that further compounds arthritis aches and pains. The basic purpose of an exercise program for an arthritis patient is to preserve and protect the joints in order to decrease pain and increase overall range of motion, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. Physicians can prescribe suitable exercise programs according to the individual’s capabilities in order to fully achieve the benefits of physical activity.


Other Options

In America today, there are 19 million people with doctor-diagnosed arthritis who report everyday activity restraints or limits due to their condition. The daily living activities that seem to be a basic part of one’s routine take more time and cause frustration in our aging population diagnosed with arthritis. Although exercise programs can serve as useful tools for pain alleviation, they may not be useful in assisting in everyday task completion. Even though the daily living activities of those with arthritis have become a bigger challenge, there are numerous adjustments that can be made to address some of the difficulties and valuable resources that can be utilized.


Everyday Arthritis Problems and Solutions

The first problem that one with arthritis may run into is the new difficulty found in navigating one’s own home. Activities like climbing stairs now look as impossible as climbing a mountain. This can be especially tough to handle when you must use stairs routinely for bathroom visits, laundry, or for going to bed. Stairs become more approachable with the use of stair lifts, wheelchair ramps, and stair-climbing wheelchairs. For people living with arthritis, the pain caused by trying to maintain healthy grooming and hygiene habits could be great enough to keep them out of the bathroom. Fortunately, there are a few easy fixes for this problem. Transfer benches or shower chairs are an inexpensive way to ease getting in and out of the bathtub/shower and with much less hassle than having your bathtub/shower modified. Something as simple as an electric toothbrush makes dental hygiene much easier, while also alleviating pain in the wrists, hands, and elbows that is often associated with regular tooth brushing. Raised toilet seats allow additional height which helps people suffering from arthritis to stand easier when finished using the toilet. Hair brushing, shaving, and even dressing oneself become more complicated tasks, but can be helped with the use of elbow and wrist supports. Many suffering from arthritis will turn to Velcro and elastic to replace the more difficult shoelaces and buttons.

Gripping and grabbing motions present especially challenging situations for some with arthritis. Door handles, faucets, eating utensils, telephones, and pencils are just a few items used daily that will become increasingly difficult to use. For people with arthritis, items with traction are easier items to use and grips can be added to just about everything in the house for added support. Bigger pens and pencils will help in the process of writing. Items that require tightening also become a challenge, but can be made easy again with gas cap wrenches and jar openers.


Self-Management Tool Kit Perhaps one of the most valuable resources available to an arthritis patient is the Arthritis Self-Management Tool Kit. They are often available at your local Regional Arthritis Center free of charge. These kits include a Let’s Exercise! Guide Book with a two CD accompanying set, a Time for Healing relaxation music CD, and The Arthritis Helpbook by Dr. Kate Lorig and Dr. James Fries. The Let’s Exercise set offers varying intensities of strengthening and endurance exercises, while The Arthritis Helpbook offers an abundance of general arthritis information, as well as insightful self-help strategies. Also included is a user-friendly action plan manual. This tool kit is ideal for individuals with limited mobility who cannot make it out of their house or to exercise classes offered in the community.

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