If you wake up each day with stiffness and pain, you may be one of the 70 million Americans who suffer from arthritis or symptoms of joint pain. Although there's no magic cure, there are plenty of strategies based on recent research that can help counter the pain and disability.
Because arthritis is a chronic condition it's important to be assertive and informed about self-care options as well as the latest medicine therapies.
Arthritis literally means inflammation of the joint. Osteoarthritis, by far the most common form, can result from wear and tear on the joints or from an injury.
Many people have only mild discomfort, but as the cartilage that cushions joints breaks down, there can be considerable pain, inflammation and loss of movement. Osteoarthritis affects all parts of a joint, causing pain and stiffness, especially after exercise.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joint membranes, cartilage and bones the way osteoarthritis does. However, unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the whole body, with symptoms such as loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell.
The main symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation -- redness, heat and pain at the joints.
The treatment of arthritis is a combination of various therapies with the focus on addressing pain and trying to halt the progression of the disease.
Talk to your physician or healthcare provider about the various over-the-counter medications as well as the more powerful disease-modifying medications, known as DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) and DMOADs (disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs).
Both glucosamine and chondroitin, supplements reviewed by a medical panel for Consumer Reports, seem to be effective in relieving arthritis pain. Neither is known to have any serious side effects.
There are numerous unproven diet claims for arthritis cures. To determine what foods are beneficial, researchers at Tufts University analyzed diet-related studies and devised an arthritis diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, healthy oils and vitamin D. Key elements of the plan include:
Antioxidants, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Sources include: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, limes, lemons, oranges, guavas, papayas, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli flowers, tomatoes.
Vitamin D. Food sources: Fish liver oils, fortified milk, egg yolks, tuna fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in coldwater fish such as halibut, salmon and sardines help suppress inflammatory prostaglandins.
A number of oils, including safflower, corn, and cottonseed oil contain omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation and should be avoided. They're often used in processed food such as cookies and crackers.
Researchers advise eating three servings each of fruit and vegetables per day, four servings of fish per week, and at least one serving of fish, nuts or legumes each day.
A multivitamin supplement could help reach 400 IU of vitamin D daily.
Persons who are overweight should strive to lose weight. Studies show that losing even 10 or 15 pounds can help.
Regular exercise can help relieve the pain and stiffness in your joints by keeping the muscles and tissues around them strong.
The stronger these muscles and tissues are, the better they can support and protect your joints.
Consistent exercise can also help lift your spirits, control your weight and even lower your risk of developing osteoporosis and high blood pressure.
Arthritis is a chronic condition and as such requires patience and perseverance.
Weight loss, following a sensible diet plan, regular gentle exercise, and working with your physician to ensure you are taking the safest and most effective medications will help keep you moving and enjoying life.
Lisa Bankard is coordinator of the community education and wellness programs of Yampa Valley Medical Center