Self-help and daily living for arthritis

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There are many ways that you can help yourself if you have arthritis. For further information visit our section on arthritis and daily life.

Rest and exercise

It's important to keep your joints moving and your muscles strong – whether you have arthritis or not. It's generally true that the stronger the muscles that support a joint, the less pain you'll experience in that joint. If a joint is very inflamed, a short period of rest may help the inflammation to settle down. You should protect inflamed or damaged joints, using them 'little but often', though it’s important not to rest the joints too much.

Make sure you put your joints through a full range of motion at least once a day to prevent them stiffening up. Keeping active is good for your general health. If you have a flare-up of your arthritis, which may occur as a result of overdoing it, applying ice to the painful joints may help to reduce the inflammation (but make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a damp towel to protect your skin). Packs to warm in the microwave are available and may help to ease aching joints.

physiotherapist can advise you on helpful exercises, which will vary depending on your type of arthritis.

Diet

We all need to be sensible about what we eat or drink. If you have arthritis it’s important to avoid being overweight, as this puts extra strain on the joints. If you’re very overweight, losing 2 stone (about 13 kg) can reduce pain in the knee by 50%. A good diet with plenty of fruit and fibre, avoiding too much meat or animal fat, is good for your general health.

Special diets rarely make a great deal of difference if you have arthritis, although many people feel better when they start eating a healthy diet. You may find that a diet which replaces animal fat with vegetable or fish oils can reduce joint inflammation a little.

It’s rare for alcohol to affect arthritis but it’s important to remember that some drugs can interact with alcohol. If you’re prescribed drugs for your arthritis you may need to avoid alcohol or limit the amount you drink. If you’re in any doubt, check with your doctor.

Beware of the many books, articles and advice about diets that claim to cure arthritis. Many of them recommend quite different things, and most people don't benefit from them. An unusual diet could actually do you more harm than good.

Stress

Chronic arthritis can get you down, and constant pain may lead to anxiety and depression. Counselling from your doctor, or from someone they recommend, may help. You may find that sharing the problem with friends and others who are affected can also be helpful. You may be able to learn useful relaxation techniques with the help of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. There are often support groups or telephone support lines available where you can talk to others with similar issues.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies such as osteopathy and chiropractic can help some arthritic conditions, especially back pain. There are a huge range of other therapies, including homoeopathy and herbalism, and a range of food supplements that you may be tempted to try. Most of these are harmless, but if in doubt you should ask your doctor. If you do try these therapies or supplements, be critical of what they are doing for you, and base your decision to continue on whether you notice any improvement. You may find that changing only one thing at a time helps you to tell which therapies are working.

Arthritis Research UK have developed two authoritative reports into complementary medicines and therapies. These reports assess all the known evidence for these therapies and rate them for effectiveness and safety.

Moving to a warmer climate

Many people with arthritis feel that changes in the weather affect the level of pain they feel. Most people prefer hot, dry climates, but some people feel better in the cold and damp. The weather will probably make a difference to how you feel – warmth and sunshine tend to lift your spirits. However, arthritis and musculoskeletal pain occur in all climates, and although the weather may affect the symptoms of your arthritis or the way you feel, it won’t cause the condition or affect the way it develops.

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