Expert Tips For Dealing With Arthritis

Expert Tips For Dealing With Arthritis

Ten million people in the UK are living with arthritis, which can make even the smallest of tasks – whether it’s cooking, walking up the stairs or doing your make-up – very painful. And while medication can help, there are plenty of lifestyle factors you could consider. From how to exercise to the supplements worth taking, we went to the experts to find out more…

Try A Mediterranean Diet

Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, can be divided into two groups. The first is arthritis caused by wear and tear (i.e., osteoarthritis), while the second is a collection of arthritic ailments associated with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis while rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common autoimmune arthritis and affects 1% of the world’s population. Why RA develops isn’t clear, but it’s thought both genes and lifestyle play a role, and more evidence is emerging that diet and gut inflammation may also play a part. Antioxidants can help reduce inflammation, so consider eating in line with Mediterranean principles. “Large amounts of processed food, sugar, salt, alcohol and red meat can lead to inflammation,” says osteopath Anisha Joshi. “At the same time, some research has shown gluten can potentially cause inflammation, and both coeliac disease and arthritis are autoimmune conditions that can cause inflammation in the body.” Aim for a plant-rich diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruit, vegetables and extra virgin olive oil, and lower in red meat and dairy. “Eating this way has the potential to not only reduce inflammation, in turn reducing arthritic symptoms, but may also help you maintain a healthy weight, another risk factor for painful joints,” says Anisha. 

Up Your Omegas

If you change one thing in your diet, experts agree it should be increasing your intake of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 supplements have been found to reduce joint pain and improve function when used in conjunction with – or as an alternative to – conventional anti-inflammatory painkillers. Evidence also suggests they could even help to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis, and they can also promote heart health, which is crucial given people with RA are at an increased risk of heart disease. “I’m a huge advocate of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids,” says Anisha. “Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish like mackerel and salmon, nuts and plant oils, but if you don’t eat the recommended two portions of oily fish per week, consider taking a supplement to keep joints supple.” 

Take Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential to help prevent thinning of the bones, especially where they have a higher risk from a long-term condition such as arthritis. And as well as its role in bone health, vitamin D may also have anti-inflammatory effects. “As well as a good-quality vitamin D supplement, increase your intake of mushrooms, fatty fish, bananas, leafy greens and extra virgin olive oil, all of which are rich sources of vitamin D,” says Anisha. 

Consider CBD

“Studies have shown CBD oils can help support new bone generation, and are worth trying if you suffer with arthritis,” says Ed Buckwald, osteopath and founder of Canamis. Studies also show CBD can help reduce chronic pain, which may also reduce inflammation. “Get into the habit of taking CBD daily, like you would a multivitamin. How long it takes to see results varies between individuals – some see pain relief very quickly, while for others it can take longer. Oral drops are the most efficient way to absorb CBD as this method bypasses the digestive system. Use your body weight as a guide for dosage – a helpful guide is to take 1-6mg of CBD for every ten pounds of body weight; then judge its desired effects for your personal goals, such as pain relief, to decide whether you require a higher or lower dose each day. Adjust your dosage until you feel an improvement.”

Start Taking Turmeric

“Several supplements have been shown to be effective in treating arthritis, and curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties and is worth trying,” says Anisha. Combined analysis of multiple studies has found 1,000mg taken daily can reduce arthritis-associated pain. However, it’s worth noting that adding turmeric to a curry or drinking a shot of turmeric juice is unlikely to provide you with enough curcumin to have any measurable effect. For example, if you had a turmeric shot containing 5g of turmeric, this would equate to around 150mg of curcumin. To make a difference, you’d need to be taking 500-1000mg per day, which would be equivalent to up to nine turmeric shots every day. Instead, look to a high-quality supplement to top up your levels.  Just don’t expect to see miracles overnight, says Anisha. “As with any supplement, it’s worth taking it for at least three months to allow time for changes at a cellular level,” she advises.

Stay Active

“It’s a case of use it or lose it when it comes to arthritis and joint health,” says Ed. “Especially as one of the biggest risk factors for those living a sedentary lifestyle is muscle loss. When you have low muscle tone, your joints take on more impact and this can compound the issue. However, you don’t have to train for a marathon to see the benefit – walking is excellent for both joint and cardiac health. It’s also very low risk, so can be done daily.” Ed also says that running can be a great way to get your recommended 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week if it’s something that was already part of your lifestyle. “However, it’s worth noting that poor running form, wearing the wrong shoes and wearing worn-out shoes will all place increased pressure on your bones. To counter this, invest in quality footwear and replace every 450-500 miles. You can also try specialist orthopaedic footwear or simply running, or walking, on softer ground to minimise the impact.”

Swimming is a great choice of exercise if you have arthritis as it can reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain, stimulate blood circulation, and can help make your joints more flexible.
Anisha Joshi

Head To The Water

“Swimming is a great choice of exercise if you have arthritis as it can reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain, stimulate blood circulation, and can help make your joints more flexible,” adds Anisha. Experts agree exercising in a pool provides nearly instant relief from pain and stiffness, and even if you don’t feel comfortable walking on land, the buoyancy of water will give you freedom of movement while also providing support. “Walking in water is a fantastic way to build strength and support your joints – in fact, doing this will lessen the weight on your joints by 50%,” says Anisha. “Even if you don’t particularly feel like exercising with arthritis, it’s essential to stay active to reduce and prevent pain.”

Lift Weights

“Just like muscle, bone is a living tissue which responds to exercise by becoming stronger,” says Anisha. “In particularly, strength training – i.e., lifting weights – improves health by strengthening bones and maintaining muscle mass, making it a must for anyone with arthritis. Becoming stronger can also improve coordination skills and balance, which can prevent falls and, in turn, fractures.” Ed is also an advocate of weight training to improve arthritis symptoms, but says it needs to be done alongside an expert to avoid injury and to ensure you’re doing it properly. “Aim for three sessions of weight training in your week and don’t forget, your body can be a ‘weight’, too,” he advises. 

Stress Less

Anisha is an advocate of mindfulness, saying stress can have a significant effect on pain. “Stress can lead to a number of physical ailments and issues, which manifest in a number of ways,” she tells SL. “Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as jaw clenching, shrugged shoulders, insomnia, hyperventilation and IBS. These symptoms can then impact the muscles associated with these areas, leading to muscle tightening and tension, which then leads to pain. This ultimately creates a cycle of pain and anxiety, with both impacting the other. Practising mindfulness and looking at potential stressors and how to minimise them can positively impact your overall health.”

Book In For Acupuncture

Parvinder Sagoo, lead medical advisor and clinician at Simply Meds Online, says acupuncture can relieve pain. The alternative therapy may have its sceptics, but countless clinical studies support acupuncture’s ability to relieve osteoarthritis pain, particularly in the knee. One study of 18,000 patients found acupuncture to be helpful for several pain-related conditions, including knee osteoarthritis. In addition to promoting an anti-inflammatory effect, studies show that acupuncture also releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. 

Invest In The Right Aids

“Walking aids such as a walking stick can be a useful addition if you have arthritis in the hips or knees,” adds Tracy Ward, Pilates teacher, physiotherapist and founder of Freshly Centered. “Remember that while there is no cure for arthritis, there are many things you can do to make living with the condition more manageable. A knee brace can also help reduce pressure on the joint – basic supports such as a neoprene sleeve can help mild cases while, for more severe cases, a DonJoy brace can be used. For pain in the thumb joint, a CMC thumb brace will support the base of the thumb whilst still allowing full use of your hand; for wrist pain, consider a wrist splint that will minimise movement in your wrist to support the joint.” And if you do aggravate a particular joint, Tracy recommends using an ice pack. “This will cool the area and reduce inflammation to prevent the pain from worsening.”

Listen To Your Body

“One of the most common mistakes I see women with arthritis making is not getting the balance right,” says Parvinder. “Once you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis it’s vital to understand what you can and can’t do and adopt the correct lifestyle changes. There’s no need to panic and change your entire life, but even the smallest of changes can keep inflammation at bay. For example, make sure you get the balance right between staying active and overdoing it. Many women living with arthritis limit their movement, but light exercise is imperative. At the same time, overdoing it can have an adverse effect on the joints. At the very least, take medication as instructed, eat the right foods and get plenty of sleep.” Tracy agrees, adding, “Always listen to your body – know how much movement you can tolerate, pace yourself and don’t be afraid to rest when it gets too much.”
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