Arthritis is generally defined as a disorder of the joints distinguished by swelling and pain. It affects at least one in five adults in the US – women more than men. Some patients endure extreme pain, while others are able to keep the symptoms under control with a combination of diet, exercise, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
Arthritis can significantly mess up your quality of life and ability to do those things you once did so easily. So, what should be your first step in making improvements? If possible, see a physical therapist for made-to-order advice on how to move through each day without increasing your pain. Also, get creative in helping yourself.
Get moving. Arthritis and exercise may not seem like a good fit, but when joints are on the move, they are being lubricated. Know your body’s range of motion limitations and don’t push past them, or the pain will only increase. Knitting and writing put a painful crick in my neck and shoulders. I use gentle range of motion exercises to ease the muscles. Forego the weight-bearing exercises like walking and go for water-based activities, especially in warm weather or use the gym pool.
Plan for a pain-free work day. Sitting at a desk becomes miserable when dealing with joint pain. Check out an ergonomic chair designed to be adjusted to suit the person sitting on it. Set all your workstation activities to fit into your range of motion with minimal reaching, bending or twisting actions. Invest in a hands-free headset so you are not clutching the phone between your shoulder and head. Get up and stretch at least every 30-60 minutes.
Keep sex alive and well! The bedroom is where you can still let loose. Always use pillows, wedges, and rolled-up towels to support the curvy areas. Be creative in experimenting with new positions to find what’s comfortable for you. Don’t settle for the old missionary position of one on top, the other beneath, face-to-face. My hubby and I have a favorite alternative we call spooning. Use your imagination.
Navigate the kitchen easily. The secret is to have everything you most often use within your comfy zone. That means reorganizing so that necessary items are between shoulder and thigh height. Even a waist-high counter for stirring and dough-rolling is also a plus. Plan ahead so you aren’t carrying heavy-laden pots or gallon jugs across the kitchen alone.
Opening Cans and Jars. There is often a flare-up of arthritis pain in the wrist when opening a can or jar. But this wrist movement must still be done, whether it’s cooking dinner or taking daily vitamins. Choose an electric can opener or other jar opener that to do the job. My favorites are my hubby’s strong muscled hands. He opens the jar while I sneak in a thank-you kiss.
No more reaching! Whenever possible, do not reach above your head. Get help to rearrange closets and high cabinets so that what you most often use is within easy reach. I keep a step stool under our high-top kitchen table for use when no one’s available to help.
Move slowly when getting out of bed. Years ago I learned a technique after breaking my back. Begin by rolling onto one side. As your feet swing over the edge, push up with the other arm. Your leg weight will help pull you into a sitting position. Once on your feet, hold still for any dizziness to leave.
Take Your Time Getting Out of the Car. Again, move slowly. Open the door, turn around, sit on the seat, and then lift one foot at a time, pivoting slowly to place each on the car floor. Reverse the movements to get out, rotating your body and using abdominal muscles to lift yourself out.
Dress without stress. Ok, maybe the favorite outfit will be too much effort. Choose comfortable clothes that slip on instead of pulling them over the head. Attach larger zipper tabs for an easier grip. Swing with the young chicks and go braless when the arthritis pain makes dressing tricky. Wear shoes with Velcro tabs instead of shoe laces.
Garden with the right tools. If you cannot pinch, squeeze and grip those handles like you used to, opt for larger, lighter hand tools. I invested in a bamboo rake and a thick knee pad for kneeling in the dirt. Use comfy, cushioned outdoor chairs when you need to rest while working outdoors.