Living with arthritis

October 12 is World Arthritis Day.

Since arthritis is inevitable, and will happen to the best of us, the first thing about adjustments is acceptance. Depression as a malady is commonly seen in arthritics, and it has been observed that patients who are feeling low actually tend to feel the pain of arthritis much more than those who, notwithstanding their disease state, have a more cheerful approach to life. 

It would certainly be wise to alter one’s lifestyle early in adult life, before arthritis has set in. In addition, these altered habits will increase the life span of the joints gifted to us by nature by retarding the progress of the disease.(Read: Suffer from osteoarthritis? Don’t lose hope!)

Of the things I shall talk about, exercises and weight loss are of paramount importance. My teacher in college was fond of saying that the treatment of arthritis begins with weight loss. Compared to the overweight subject, in a lean individual, since his joints are subjected to less strain, arthritis sets in slowly, and when it does, in a lean individual, the need for medicines is far less. (Read: Is it possible to lose weight by walking?)

Concomitant to weight loss is dietary control–as opposed to dieting. Avoiding the wrong kinds of food is only one half of the exercise: one must also ensure that the right kind of food is taken in sufficient amounts to maintain a balanced dietary intake. Oils, fats, processed food and simple carbohydrates are the food items to avoid; fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables and skimmed milk must be encouraged.

Exercises will decrease pain, improve and increase the range of motion in joints, strengthen the muscles surrounding a joint, and thus reduce the symptom of pain, besides helping us to endure it better. On the other hand, inactivity, which can lead to muscle weakness, can cause instability in a joint. The ‘right’ exercises are those that will build and strengthen the muscles around a joint without damaging the joint itself, and include exercises such as walking, cycling, low-impact aerobics and swimming. High-impact exercises and those that involve repetition of the same movement are best avoided.

The use of alcohol and tobacco should be cut down or stopped. Tobacco weakens the connective tissue, thereby increasing joint laxity and alcohol can make you overweight besides altering your sensorium, making you more helpless and susceptible to injury.

Further, statistics show that arthritis is associated with other health problems such as heart disease, hypertension and Diabetes. By no means should the treatment of these diseases be ignored on account of the pain and suffering of arthritis. (Read: Top reasons why you need to treat your diabetes)

Finally, simple measures like the installation of hand rails say, in the bathroom, or simple door handles instead of door knobs; the use of a walking stick, or using a ramp instead of the stairs will go a long way in helping the patient to cope and to come to terms with the pain and problems associated with arthritis.

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