South Arkansas Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine
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Living with Osteoarthritis


Most people with osteoarthritis live full, active lives. Those who do best are managing their disease in partnership with their doctor. You can get life-enhancing payoffs from learning as much as possible about arthritis - its causes, effects and treatments. Following an active lifestyle is often the most effective treatment for osteoarthritis.

Once you accept that you have osteoarthritis, you can adapt your lifestyle to meet the challenges that damage to a joint can create. By taking charge of your treatment, you can learn how to manage your pain, control your weight and use exercise most effectively. You should also take advantage of the services in your community, such as swimming exercise classes, that are designed specifically for people with arthritis.

Educate yourself

Learning about osteoarthritis and its effects and treatment is the first step in managing the disease. The more you know about your illness, the more control you will have over it and the more successful your treatment is likely to be. Look up information about arthritis in your public library or contact your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. Many national and local organizations, including the Arthritis Foundation, offer services, such as help with daily activities, classes or videotapes that teach people who have arthritis how to manage their illness.

Check with your doctor, physical therapist, nurses, local hospitals, senior citizen centers, health clinics, and health clubs about classes, organizations or meetings concerning arthritis.

Many people find it beneficial to join a support group of other people who have arthritis. In a support group, people learn from each other by sharing their experiences and insights. Ask your doctor or check your local newspaper or telephone book for information about arthritis support groups in your area. Many hospitals keep lists of local support groups, their locations and meeting times.

Be optimistic


One of the most powerful weapons against arthritis is a positive attitude. Having an optimistic outlook can increase your ability to control your symptoms and greatly improve the quality of your life. Thinking you can gain control over your pain and knowing you can accomplish everyday tasks gives you self-confidence and a sense of well-being. This self-confidence can boost the effectiveness of your treatment program. Arthritis can make you feel angry, sad, resentful, irritable, helpless, frustrated or afraid. These feelings are normal. But taking an active approach to your illness can help you overcome these feelings and cope in a more positive way. Here are some things you can do to improve your outlook:

  • Learn as much as you can about osteoarthritis and treatment options; ask your doctor what to expect.
  • Learn how to break your own pain-stress-depression-pain cycle; try visiting with friends, exercising, relaxing and other activities you enjoy.
  • Be flexible; plan alternate activities or schedules for those times when you are experiencing pain or are tired.
  • Relieve negative feelings with positive activities such as exercising.
  • Share your feelings, fears, and concerns with your doctor, family members and friends.
  • Understand that some things are beyond your control; focus on what you can do and what you can change. Find new activities that you enjoy and that give you a sense of purpose.

Protect your joints

People with arthritis can protect their joints by learning new ways to use them. You can avoid excessive stress on smaller, more fragile joints by using larger or stronger joints to carry things. For example, carry grocery bags using your forearms or the palms of your hands instead of your fingers. Carry food on a tray, using your forearms and hands instead of your fingers. Use lightweight, plastic dishes. Here are some other things you can do to limit stress on your joints:

  • Use support devices for walking. Using a cane, crutches, or a walker regularly or whenever you need to can help reduce strain on your hips and knees.
  • Using an extra-thick pen puts less stress on your finger joints.
  • Long-handled tools and special reaching devices give you better leverage for tasks such as gardening, cleaning, or getting things off shelves or off the floor.
  • Use a bookstand to hold your book at eye level to avoid neck strain from looking down.
  • Arrange furniture for safety and comfort. If possible, avoid the need to climb stairs by moving your bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen to one floor. Be careful about loose carpeting and other hazards that might cause falls.
  • Install handrails by the toilet and in the bathtub or shower for extra support. You can also use a raised toilet seat, which is easier to get up from.
  • Make sure there's at least one comfortable chair in your home that has armrests and a firm back for support. Soft couches and chairs can be very difficult to get out of. If you are short, you should have a comfortable chair that is close enough to the ground to be easy to get into and out of.
  • When lifting an object that is low or on the ground, bend at your knees and lift by straightening your legs, keeping your back straight. But don't squat or kneel; these positions put too much stress on your hips and knees.
  • When getting up from a chair, slide forward to the edge of the chair, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Lean forward and push down with the palms of your hands (not your fingers) on the arms or seat of the chair. If you have wrist pain, get up by pushing off with your forearms against the top of your thighs. Stand up by straightening your hips and knees.
  • Don't look up for long periods; this can strain your neck. If you're doing work, such as painting, that requires you to look up for a long time, use a ladder to bring yourself to the same level as your work.
  • If you need to hold something tightly, such as a tool or a heavy skillet, wear thick gloves to reduce the force you put on the joints in your hand.
  • Never squat or kneel; these positions put too much stress on your hips and knees.
  • Wear well-cushioned athletic shoes with good support whenever you can. For dress shoes, wear shoes with a heel no higher than 1 inch and that have a wide toe area and good arch support. Men should wear lace-up oxfords rather than slip-ons such as loafers (which provide less support).

Ask for help when you need it

Your family members and friends can play a critical role in helping you learn to live with arthritis. People who have the loving support of others do better in all areas of managing their illness. Talking with loved ones about the difficulties you are having can help prevent depression and improve your ability to cope with your illness. Don't be afraid to ask for help whenever you need it. People are willing to help - they usually just need to be asked.


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