There are normal aches and pains that come with aging. Then there is the dull, achy, throbbing pain that comes with arthritis.
As the No. 1 source of pain in older adults, arthritis attacks joints, and the tissues surrounding them, making even the simplest of activities difficult.
It’s hard not knowing when you’ll wake up with such painful and swollen hands and fingers that you cannot do simple things like wringing out a washcloth. It’s exhausting to deal with chronic pain that wears you down and affects your sleep. It’s heartbreaking to feel like you’re missing out on social events with friends and family because of a painful neck or knee.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to get relief and stop inflammation that can lead to joint damage or destruction. Let’s take a look at the common types of arthritis and what makes arthritis better.
Common Types of Arthritis in Older Adults
There are more than 100 conditions that can lead to inflammation or swelling of one or more joints. The most common types of arthritis among older adults are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Feel a grating or scraping feeling when moving your knee? Have pain in your hips that isn't noticeable in the morning but gets worse throughout the day? It might be osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, and it occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, this form of arthritis is the result of the breakdown of joint cartilage and usually develops slowly and worsens over time.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and include:
- Pain or aching
- Joint stiffness
- Limited range of motion
- Clicking or cracking sound when a joint bends
- Swelling around a joint
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Have significant stiffness in the morning that persists for at least an hour? Does pain ease for periods, then get significantly worse? Feeling tired or depressed? It might be rheumatoid arthritis.
Unlike OA, which is a mechanical disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that occurs most frequently in the hands, wrists, knees, and ankles. This form of arthritis happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body.
With RA, there are times when symptoms get worse, known as flares, and times when symptoms get better, known as remission. Also, joint pain often occurs on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees). Common symptoms include:
- Joint pain, tenderness, swelling, or stiffness that lasts for six weeks or longer, often in more than one joint
- Morning stiffness that lasts for 30 minutes or longer
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
Tips to Ease Joint Pain and Arthritis Symptoms
Although arthritis can’t be cured, there are simple treatments and lifestyle changes older adults can make to reduce and manage their arthritis pain. Here are six things that can help make arthritis better.
1. Get Moving
Won’t moving harm your joints and cause more pain? Actually, research shows that exercise can improve your joint pain and stiffness and is considered the most effective non-drug treatment for osteoarthritis. Although it may be uncomfortable to get started, not moving actually makes arthritis pain worse.
If you have osteoarthritis, try walking, aquatic exercises, range-of-motion and flexibility exercises, and strengthening exercises.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, consider mind-body practices, such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation, which not only decrease joint pain and stiffness but also improve relaxation and reduce stress.
2. Apply Heat and Ice
When your joints ache, experiment with applying heat or cold for 15 minutes at a time.
For example, if you have morning stiffness, applying a heating pad to the aching joints before you get up or taking a hot bath or shower can ease pain. If you have painful and swollen joints, try using ice packs or a bag of frozen corn or peas to help numb the area.
3. Use Massage
Another way to reduce arthritis pain and stiffness is massage. Research shows that people with arthritis in the knee had more flexibility and range of motion and less pain after getting weekly Swedish massages for a few months.
Apply heat to the painful joint to warm the area first, then gently rub and massage the area. Adding lotions or oils to reduce friction can also feel good.
4. Try Supportive Devices
There are many arthritis-friendly products that can make life easier, from adaptive cutting boards and grooming products to card holders and button hooks.
Canes, rolling walkers, and knee braces can also help relieve painful pressure and help you move more freely.
If you have arthritis in your feet or knees, try placing wedges or insoles in your shoes. The more support your shoe has, the more it will protect your joints and provide shock absorption while walking.
5. Watch Your Weight
The more pressure you put on weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees, the more pain you’ll feel. Research shows that losing just 1 pound takes 4 pounds of pressure off each knee.
If you have a few pounds to shed, consider adopting a healthier diet and increasing exercise to help take a lot of pressure off your joints.
6. Work with Your Doctor
Your doctor can help you understand your symptoms, identify patterns, rule out other conditions that could be causing problems, and recommend treatments.
Help your doctor help you by keeping a journal of symptoms. Track when and where pain occurs, when it’s worst, and what activities you struggle with most. You might also track medications taken, foods eaten, and activity or movement.
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