How can I help with the physical challenges of arthritis?
Helping with pain and stiffness
- If a particular activity is causing problems, encourage the person you’re caring for to find a different way of doing it. An occupational therapist can give advice on aids and adaptations that may help.
- Hold a hot-water bottle or an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) against the painful joint for 10–15 minutes. Wrap them in a towel to avoid burning the skin.
- Find non-physical ways of occupying the mind. Relaxation, massage and yoga can help ease pain and tension.
- Encourage daily exercise to keep the joints moving to minimise pain and stiffness – swimming and cycling are good activities.
- Speak to a physiotherapist if you need advice about exercise.
Join in the exercises so they’re more of a social activity and less of a chore.
- Start gradually and increase the amount over time as the body adjusts to the increased activity.
Some people find the fatigue caused by arthritis is more difficult to cope with than the pain. You can help to reduce fatigue by:
- spreading, pacing and planning activities, especially during a flare-up – this can also help reduce pain and stiffness as well as increase the chance of activities being carried out successfully
- encouraging regular exercise
- setting up a regular sleep pattern.
Understanding the role of drugs
Drugs, such as painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), are one of the main treatments for arthritis. The person you care for should speak with their doctor about the types of drugs that may be suitable for them. Together, they’re in the best position to weigh up the benefits and possible side-effects of taking drugs. Everyone is different, so if one drug isn’t working a different one might.
If the person you care for has an inflammatory arthritis, it’s important that they start drug treatment quickly because the sooner they begin treatment, the more effective it’s likely to be. The person you care for must follow their doctor’s instructions when taking drugs.
Every treatment occasionally causes side-effects, but the risk of these can be reduced by following the doctor’s advice. If you’re worried, or think that they may be causing side-effects, take the person in your care to see their doctor.
Encouraging a healthy diet
It’s important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables for good general health. People with arthritis should keep to a sensible weight as being overweight will increase the stress on the joints. Some people with arthritis do seem to benefit from changing their diet, though there’s no single diet that helps with all types of arthritis.