Wrapping gifts and baking cookies can be a real challenge with arthritis pain and fatigue. We asked some experts for ways to make these time-honored holiday traditions easier and healthier.
Until recently, spondyloarthritis (spon-di-low-ar-THRI-tis) didn’t receive much attention. It’s now generating more interest, in part because it’s diagnosed more often and there are better ways to treat it, says rheumatologist Philip Mease, MD, a professor at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
The pressure of coping with arthritis can ratchet up stress and anxiety – a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 people with arthritis. And that, in turn, can worsen the symptoms of chronic diseases and contribute to a host of other problems.
“When we are stressed or perceive a threat, our body responds with physiologic responses that prepare us to fight or escape the enemy,” says Rudy Nydegger, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at Union Graduate College in Schenectady, N.Y. “Our heart rate and breathing speed up, our muscles tense and blood flow to the brain increases, putting us in a state of high awareness.” That can help protect you if the enemy is an attacking tiger and the threat ends quickly. But when ongoing stress leads to anxiety (excessive worry), it can result in a heightened awareness of symptoms – for instance, pain feels worse – as well as increased susceptibility to infection and risk of other health problems, including heart disease. Anxiety can have indirect health impacts, too, if it leads to inactivity, interferes with sleep or leads you to eat unhealthy foods for comfort.
Gardening can be a pain-free hobby for people living with arthritis—all you need is a little planning and creativity.
Yes, the cold and humidity can make your joints ache.
Can you feel a storm coming in your knees? So can lots of people with arthritis. Some doctors think that these stories of weather causing joint pain are old wives’ tales, but science is backing up the phenomenon.
Continue reading Weather and Arthritis Pain
Researchers agree – meditation can help with a host of health problems. “Relaxing and quieting your mind by focusing on your breathing can reduce stress – even the stress that comes with arthritis flares,” says David E. Yocum, MD, director of the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson. His studies, as well as others, found that patients who meditated responded to stress with lower heart rates and improved immune function; and that meditation, in combination with traditional medicines, appears to help patients with chronic pain. Studies have shown that meditation inhibits or relieves pain perception. And in a study published in the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s scientific journal in April 2015, 43 patients who used a mindfulness meditation program as part of their pain management experienced lower general anxiety and depression, better mental quality of life (psychological well-being), a greater feeling of control of the pain, and higher pain acceptance.
Continue reading Easy Meditation Options for Pain
If your joints start to ache after a long day, try warming them up instead of popping a pill. Heat relaxes the muscles around painful joints and increases blood circulation, which can help you feel better fast. When a hot bath or shower isn’t convenient, try one of these options.
Electric Heating Pad
How It Works: Plug it in, wrap in cloth, apply for 20 minutes.
Best For: “They’re one of the best ways to heat a large body part – a hip, back, shoulder, knee – especially before activities like stretching,” says Doreen M. Stiskal, PhD, department of physical therapy chair at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
Pros: They’re easy to use and store; heat up quickly.
Meditation includes many different practices of focused thinking and relaxation and studies show it can help people with arthritis. No matter what technique you choose, the goal is to improve coping strategies for pain and reduce symptoms like stress and anxiety. Maybe you’ve even tried it – but two minutes felt like two hours and after each 20-minute session, the result was the same: You created a mental to-do list and had a sore behind. You’re not alone.
“We are so used to multitasking that we find it difficult to sit down and turn off our thoughts,” explains Scott Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. “Meditation is not a quick fix; it takes time.”
Diagnosed with fibromyalgia in her 30s and then osteoarthritis (OA) in her 50s, pain has been a pretty consistent factor in Laurie Steiner’s adult life. But, as an active grandmother and frequent caretaker of seven grandchildren, Laurie doesn’t have the time to let the pain keep her down.
“I have a busy life, like most women,” says Laurie. “I watch several of my grandkids, which involves a lot of lifting, as well as getting down and dirty with them when we play together. I may have fibromyalgia and arthritis, but I can’t let it keep me from the things I love.”
In treating her pain, Laurie has been diligent in avoiding certain pain medications in fear that they will make her too tired to make it through the day.
If you’re looking for inflammation-fighting foods to bolster your health and help your arthritis symptoms, hit the produce section of the grocery store.
“Vegetables have the most potent antioxidants and more nutrients than any other food,” says Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, medical director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at The Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.
“Each antioxidant works slightly differently but they all work in synergy to give you the best bang for your buck,” says registered dietitian Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Eating a variety of vegetables will assure that you’re getting some of everything.”