There’s a reason health articles include advice to talk to your healthcare provider before doing home treatment. The human body is overwhelmingly complex and each of us is vastly different from everyone else in many ways. While these suggestions may benefit you or the next patient that walks into my office, they might not be a good idea for your neighbor. These tips are not intended as medical advice for any specific condition. If you have severe joint pain, redness, swelling, or restricted motion, consult your healthcare provider. These tips are appropriate for many cases of arthritis, but not for all.
Although you may have been told you have “arthritis,” that really isn’t a very specific diagnosis. Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joint and can refer to dozens of possible diagnoses, all of which are unique in the way they present, progress, and respond to various treatments. Over the years, I have also seen patients diagnosed with “arthritis” that should have been more accurately diagnosed with conditions such as spinal disc degeneration, tendonitis, fibromyalgia, bursitis or another condition. A correct diagnosis can improve treatment outcome.
Here are the the 10 tips:
1. Function, function, function. These are the three most important words to joint health. Often arthritis pain causes patients to stop using the affected joints altogether. Although this avoids pain, it can often lead to a worsening problem. Weakness and stiffness are likely.
2. Heat or cold? Although application of mild warmth for a brief period can provide some relief for some arthritis conditions, I sometimes urge patients to throw their heating pad away! Why? Repetitive heat application can activate more inflammation response and may make the problem more chronic. Using a cold (refrigerator-cold, not frozen) gel pack may relieve pain without this risk.
3. Muscles matter. In many patients with arthritis, I find that pain is also coming from the muscles that attach to the joint. Sometimes improving strength and flexibility can help or completely eliminate arthritis pain. Rehab or physical therapy can help.
4. Some arthritis creams work, others don’t. Recent medical research news has cast considerable doubt on the value of many over-the-counter creams sold for arthritis relief. I have found that patients do get relief from two types of topical creams or gels: those containing either capsaicin (ingredient in hot peppers) or menthol. These types of products are so reliable that we keep them available in our clinic for the convenience of our patients. They are also available in pharmacies.
5. Gaining weight makes arthritis worse. This is very frustrating for many patients. They know that weight gain worsens their condition, but their arthritis pain is so great that they are unable to be active enough to avoid it. I have found that helping patients find activities they can accomplish safely and comfortably is helpful for long term improvement.
6. If pain is increasing, get an examination. Don’t ignore the signs of a worsening condition.
7. Massage often helps. Self massage can make a difference. Professional massage therapy can often be very helpful.
8. Try acupuncture. Arthritis is one of the reasons I began studying acupuncture over 10 years ago. Many arthritis conditions respond well to this proven treatment. (The needles don’t hurt.)
9. Chiropractors work with patients with arthritis every day and typically the results are very positive.
10. Discuss all medications with your primary care provider, even over-the-counter arthritis drugs. Arthritis medications frequently have potential for very serious side effects.
11. What you eat can make a difference. The subject of how foods affect arthritis is too extensive for this article, but a trip to the bookstore might prove beneficial.
12. Wrap or don’t wrap? Wearing an elastic support can be a benefit in some cases. I make recommendations about this on a case-by-case basis.
Murfreesboro Post bonus tip: Don’t give up! Keep looking for solutions. Get a second or third opinion. Try an alternative approach. Don’t learn to live with arthritis pain… learn to live without it. (Clip this page to save or share with a friend!)
Next week I’ll share some inspiring back-to-school tips that you won’t find anywhere else.
Dr. Mark Kestner