DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with osteoarthritis. What can I do at home to manage my discomfort?
DEAR READER: Osteoarthritis is the most common kind of arthritis. Tens of millions of us in the United States have it, and it becomes more common as we get older. For some people it causes just occasional aches and pains. But for others, pain and stiffness can make it difficult to perform the daily tasks they’ve always taken for granted. Simple activities such as getting dressed or cooking dinner can become major efforts.
There are several ways that you can make coping with arthritis a little easier:
• Regular exercise. It may be counterintuitive, but regular physical activity not only helps maintain joint function, it also relieves stiffness and decreases pain and fatigue. Exercise increases range of motion, strengthens muscles and builds endurance. You should feel the results with even an hour or two of moderate physical activity each week.
• Achieving and maintaining a normal body weight. Bearing excess weight results in more stress on joints and more pain. Your joints will let you know of their appreciation if you lose some weight.
• Assistive devices. A variety of splints are available for hands and fingers, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Using a cane can substantially relieve pressure on hips and knees. An increasing array of helpful gadgets, from jar openers to dusters, are also available.
• Acupuncture can significantly improve the pain of hip or knee osteoarthritis. If you are considering acupuncture, find a licensed practitioner.
• Heat therapy. A warm shower or bath can work wonders, especially before and after exercising. Hot packs, moist/dry heating pads, or even a towel warmed in the oven or microwave can offer instant relief.
• Cooling. Gel-filled cold packs, coolant sprays, ice chips in a plastic bag and packages of frozen peas can soothe hot, painful joints. Don’t leave them on longer than 20 minutes.