June 6, 2013

Arthritis is a common part of growing older. 50 percent of adults age 65 and older reported that they had been diagnosed with arthritis in 2007 to 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And by the year 2030, experts estimate that that number will expand to affect roughly one in four adults in the United States, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. So if you or someone you care about is dealing with arthritis, you’re far from alone.

Modern anti-inflammatory drugs can help greatly with the stiff, swollen and painful joints associated with osteoarthritis (the type most often associated with older adults). But certain lifestyle changes can also help lessen the wear and tear on the cartilage between your bones and may lessen your pain. Here are our top eight tips for managing arthritis:

1. Keep moving. When your joints are aching, the last thing you might want to do is go for a walk. But staying active is the most effective way to increase your flexibility, lessen your pain and stiffness, and improve your strength and mobility. Low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling and tai chi are all recommended by arthritis experts. They suggest building up to 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week.

2. Use hot or cold packs. Both hot and cold packs can help reduce pain: cold packs by numbing the area and constricting blood vessels, and hot packs by relaxing muscles and soothing joints. Try each of them to see which works best on your pain, or use both in rotation.

3. Watch your weight. Carrying around excess weight puts extra stress on your joints. 2009 studies linked a high body mass index (BMI) with rapid loss of knee cartilage and an increased risk of knee or hip replacement. And a 2005 study of overweight and obese people with knee osteoarthritis showed that each pound of weight they lost translated to a four-pound reduction in pressure on their knees as they walked.

4. Eat from the sea. A diet rich in oily, cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and black cod may help reduce your inflammation, and in turn, your pain. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods contain compounds such as resolvins, which help reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Other diet sources of omega-threes are walnuts, fortified eggs, and freshly-ground flax seeds.

5. Avoid bad fats. Some research has indicated that diets high in saturated fat (think fatty beef, chicken skin, butter, whole milk, cheese, and bacon) and diets high in trans fats (processed foods like candies, baked goods and junk foods) may increase inflammation and make joint pain worse. Monounsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil) are a much better choice.

6. Use relaxation techniques. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation, may help you fight your pain. A 2010 study found that practicing guided imagery (a form of guiding your imagination to a relaxed state) reduced osteoarthritis pain in participants.

7. Wear the correct shoes. If you have arthritic knees, wearing the right shoes can reduce your pain. But what the “right” shoes are might surprise you! Recent research suggests that flat, flexible shoes reduce the load on arthritic knees much better than clogs or athletic shoes with stability features. Heels (even those just an inch and a half high) and pointy-toed shoes were deemed the worst.

8. Put out that cigarette. You knew smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but did you know it can worsen your arthritis too? A 2007 study showed that men with knee osteoarthritis who smoked lost more cartilage and experienced more pain than men who didn’t. Cigarettes may increase a type of stress that can lead to cartilage loss, and also interfere with arthritis medications.

Arthritis can be a painful and annoying condition, but with the right management techniques and remedies, you can keep arthritis from being in charge of your life. What are some remedies that have helped you or someone you love manage arthritis? Share them in the comments!

For more information about arthritis, visit:

The Mayo Clinic’s arthritis page

The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center