When you hear of arthritis (inflammation of the joints), you probably think of old people. But this disease can actually show up in people as young as those in their 20s.
This means that the symptoms and associated pain and discomfort can manifest at any age. Njeri Maina explores some tips to improve your quality of life and delay arthritis.
1. Seek treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be more severe if you get it as a young adult. You may be more likely to have inflammation in the small joints of your hands and feet, and have bony erosions than people who get RA later in life.
You are also more likely to have rheumatoid nodules —these are small, hard lumps under the skin around your joints, usually on your fingers. Also, you are more likely to have seropositive RA, which means your immune system releases higher levels of certain proteins, such as rheumatoid factor, into your blood. But there is some good news, too.
Young adults with RA are more likely to get aggressive treatment to get their disease under control. This can help prevent joint damage and disability. As a result, you may have better outcomes from treatment than older people. This could also be because younger folks have fewer of the health problems that come with ageing.
2. Plan ahead for pregnancy
Some RA medications, such as leflunomide and methotrexate, can cause serious birth defects if they are passed to an unborn baby by either its mother and father. Others may lower sperm count in men with RA.
Talk with your doctor about when to stop these drugs so they can clear out of your system before you try to conceive a baby. There are RA treatments that you can take while you are pregnant or breastfeeding so you keep your RA under control.
That’s important, because high disease activity during pregnancy could cause your baby to have a low birth weight.
3. Change the way you exercise
Listen to your body. High-impact workouts such as plyometrics and running may inflame arthritic joints and worsen your symptoms. For knee arthritis in particular, you should avoid “loaded flexion” strength exercises (think: squats, lunges, and leg presses).
They put a tonne of stress on the front of the knee. That doesn’t mean you should stop working out altogether. Exercise is critical for maintaining arthritic joints, because it strengthens muscles around the affected joint, broadens your range of motion, and helps you control your weight.
And high-intensity exercise is not out of the question for people with arthritis; you can still rev your heart rate and stoke your metabolism with low-impact workouts such as swimming, cycling, and circuit training.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
A diet that’s rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods can help boost your immune system and your overall health. A plant-based diet provides antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation by eliminating free radicals from the body. Ensure you are feeding your body all the nutrients needed to help with recovery from arthritic pain.
5. Manage weight
Extra weight puts extra tension on inflamed joints thereby exacerbating arthritic pain. It is, therefore, advisable to reduce weight by engaging in low impact activities as these burn calories while still being gentle on the joints.
Low impact activities include swimming, cycling on stationery bikes and long walks. With your doctor, you can work out a healthy weight to work towards. By managing one’s weight, one may increase mobility while reducing weight related damage on the joints.
6. Reduce stress
Sometimes stress can worsen arthritic pain. It is, therefore, advisable for arthritic patients to try and reduce stress. They should also learn ways of coping and managing stress competitively such as learning meditation, breathing and relaxation techniques as these tend to reduce the correlated arthritic pain.
Massages are also known to reduce stress while increasing mobility by increasing blood flow to inflamed joints; add them to your monthly to do list.
7. Reduce alcohol and red meat intake
A diet rich in red meat, processed foods, saturated fat, and added sugar and salt may aggravate inflammation. Alcohol also aggravates inflammation around the joints especially in people with gout arthritis.
Eliminate these items from your diet or limit them to just a few times a month if you cannot completely eliminate them. Ensure you take a lot of water to help with the elimination of salts and uric acid that can worsen joint pains.
8. Try hot and cold treatment
Heat and cold treatments can help relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. By increasing blood flow, hot compresses can ease pain and stiffness. Cold compresses reduce swelling. You may want to experiment with heat versus cold packs to see what works best for you, or settle on doing them on alternating days to get benefits from both.
9. Get plenty of sleep
A good night’s sleep will help you cope with the pain and stress of arthritis. To sleep better, try going to bed at the same time every night. Take distractions such as television and computers out of your bedroom.
If you are uncomfortable in bed because of arthritis, try using pillows to take the pressure off painful joints. You can also use hot compresses to ease joint pains while in bed.
10. Try splints and mobility aids
Devices that support painful joints, such as splints, braces, and canes can help ease your discomfort and prevent injury. Other items such as electric can openers and shower chairs can also help make your everyday life easier.
Don’t shy away from devices that make life with arthritis easier. Those who care about you will understand and love you even while wrapped up with gaudy braces or while walking with a cane.