Written by Ashley Pastore, Customer Experience Manager at CORA Physical Therapy
A little over a year ago, we were told to “shelter in place” and quarantine. For some of us, these orders felt like being held captive. However, for the more than 54 million Americans suffering with arthritis, this invitation to a sedentary lifestyle might have been a welcome reprieve… at least temporarily. While arthritis patients likely experienced less pain for a brief period, in the long run, inactivity can lead to obesity and increased pain in weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips. Pain causes a person to become less active, and less activity increases pain. It is a vicious arthritic cycle.
With restrictions lifting and temperatures rising, now is the perfect time to get out and move your body. In fact, physical activity is a proven approach to reducing arthritis symptoms by easing stiffness, improving range of motion, strengthening muscles, and boosting endurance. Keep in mind the right level of physical activity depends on the individual. Emerging from a 2020-2021 hibernation, begin gradually and consult a physician or physical therapist if you have questions.
Get out there
- Phone a friend or nominate an accountability partner to help with consistency and motivation.
- If you can’t find a friend, take your dog!
- No dog? Now is a great time to adopt a pup.
- Not up for that kind of commitment, walk your neighbor’s dog!
- Now that we have you offering to walk your neighbor’s dog, maybe you’ve made a new friend and you can walk with them too.
- Health clubs and gyms are coming back to life. Check out the exercise program offerings – some offer specific classes for arthritis, especially in aquatics.
- Stop smoking! Toxins in smoke cause stress on connective tissue, leading to more joint problems.
- Do not dread it. Find what you love to get yourself moving. Walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, etc.… decrease arthritis pain and improve function, mood, and quality of life. The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Focus on nutrition
Being overweight can contribute to arthritis pain. Losing a few pounds will reduce the stress on joints and while the aforementioned activity will help, healthy eating is equally as important.
During your next trip to the grocery store, consider:
- Omega-3 fatty acids – try fish, ground flax, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and green leafy vegetables.
- Limiting saturated and trans fats – watch out for red meat, full-fat dairy, butter, French fries, and other fried foods.
- Vitamin D – found in oily fish, fortified milk and orange juice, and multivitamins. Getting outside, 10 minutes without sunscreen a few times per week, provides a nice D dose too. Remember to take your dog!
- Fruits and vegetables – look for bright oranges, bell peppers, pumpkins, tangerines, and papayas. Not only are these delicious gems pretty, they contain carotenoids called beta cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, which decrease inflammation.
- Walk the aisles – adds to your daily step count and helps you find items like ground flax.
Even if these dietary suggestions do not seem to make a difference with your arthritis, they are healthy recommendations that will improve your wellbeing and decrease your risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Consider the physical and emotional integration
If everyday activities make you hurt, you are bound to feel discouraged. Fearful or hopeless thoughts can make pain worse and harder to manage. Time to treat the whole self.
Therapies that interrupt destructive mind-body interactions include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy – a well-studied, effective combination of talk therapy and behavior modification to help you identify, and break, cycles of self-defeating thoughts and actions.
- Relaxation therapy – meditation, doing yoga, deep breathing, listening to music, being immersed in nature, writing in a journal – whatever helps you relax. Chilling out can help ease pain!
- Dry needling – aka “trigger point dry needling” is a technique used by many different healthcare disciplines, including physical therapists, to treat dysfunctional skeletal muscle and connective tissue and improve functional damage. Not to be confused with acupuncture (which focuses on energy flow), dry needling helps improve range of motion and alleviate pain.
- Massage – scheduling an appointment with a trusted masseuse or PT for manual therapy might improve pain and stiffness. Not bad for relaxation either!
- Avoid a negative attitude. Negative thoughts are self-perpetuating and if you dwell on them, they can escalate and increase your pain. Instead, distract yourself with activities you enjoy, spend time with people who support you and pet your dog… or the dog you borrowed.
Enjoy the activities you love by making some simple changes to your lifestyle. For more help, contact a CORA clinic nearest you today to schedule an appointment! Additionally, you can request a 10-15 minute complimentary screening at one of more than 200 convenient locations. Our physical therapists are passionate about helping you get back to living your life free of pain.