No one wants to hear the dreaded “it looks like you have arthritis” diagnosis. However, living with osteoarthritis does NOT have to mean sitting on the sidelines of life, avoiding triggers for your chronic pain. Dr. Dade has advised patients on the cornerstones of diet, rest, exercise, alignment, and mindfulness (D.R.E.A.M.) for over 20 years. With the right mindset and lifestyle, you can manage your arthritis symptoms and live a full, active life.
It’s important to note that there are many different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease vs. an inflammatory autoimmune disease. Since osteoarthritis affects the greatest number of people, over 31 million in the United States alone (source, Arthritis Foundation), this blog will be concentrated on OA. More information on the inflammatory types of arthritis, including rheumatoid and psoriatic, can be found here.
What is osteoarthritis?
OA is a joint disease that most commonly affects people over age 45. It’s a degenerative disease in which the cartilage between bones breaks down, often causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. Some people may also experience crepitus, or a grinding/crunching/creaking while moving an affected joint. Most commonly OA affects joints that bear loads, such as the knees, hips, lower back, and neck. Frequently the same cartilage loss is seen in small joints with frequent motion and repetitive stress, namely the fingers and toes. Joints that have been injured from sports or accidents can also be culprits for osteoarthritis later in life. If OA is allowed to progress to where the joint’s cartilage erodes completely, bones will rub together without a buffer, which can lead to debilitating pain and usually requires joint replacement.
Often OA is referred to as the “wear and tear” disease, due to how it can sneak up on a person. Long before feeling chronic pain, you may feel stiffness and shrug it off as general aging aches and pains; take over-the-counter medications like Advil, Motrin, Aleve, or Tylenol and avoiding doing too much activity. Unfortunately, joint stiffness will tend to worsen with periods of inactivity.
While currently there is no cure, you do NOT just have to suffer with arthritis. It can be significantly moderated with lifestyle modifications—D.R.E.A.M.
Diet: Modifying your diet with arthritis is important for several reasons, including weight control, inflammation reduction, and cartilage protection. An optimal diet for arthritis sufferers could be a blog topic all on its own, but suffice it to say diet is one one of the largest things we can control to affect our overall health and well-being. There is research to support the link between inflammation and numerous diseases, as well as evidence that eating specific foods that reduce inflammation can vastly improve quality of life and even slow the progression of the OA. Along with eating plenty of vegetables and eliminating or greatly reducing your intake of simple sugars and saturated fats, omega 3 fatty acids should be a focal point of your eating plan. If you’re looking for a full diet plan to follow, the Mediterranean diet is one of the best to consider in combating OA.
Rest: Wait a minute… If I’m inactive, I’ll hurt MORE! This is more about knowing your limits and pacing yourself than it is about swearing off activity altogether. Cautiously experiment to find the right amount of activity for you, with the least amount of discomfort. It may help to utilize a diary or log to help link symptoms and flare-ups to specific activities.
Exercise: While closely related to rest, exercise itself is key not only for shedding excess weight that we all know is bad for our joints, but also for building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Traditional exercise does not always work for someone with arthritis. Exercises may need to be modified, or replaced with others that allow for good activation of the muscles while minimizing the stress on affected joints. Great types of exercise to try are swimming, yoga, tai chi, and low-impact walking. Gentle stretching can also help to improve flexibility, as well as reduce pain and stiffness.
Alignment: Also known as posture, it includes workplace ergonomics, proper adjustment of your car seat, and even making sure the fit of your bicycle is correct. If we continually hold ourselves in poor alignment, we will focus stress on key joints in the body, enhancing load on them and causing more rapid wear.
Mindfulness: Often patients fear that chronic pain will just become their new normal, that they will have to just live with it—this is rarely the case. Keeping the mindset that things can be improved and managed will give you the motivation to continue taking steps toward that improvement. Additionally, there is research to support the theory that a positive outlook can boost the immune system and increase a person’s ability to handle pain.
Hopefully, this blog shows how much can be done to manage osteoarthritis. And this is all before supplements, medications, and extreme medical procedures. Combining Dr. Dade’s prescription of D.R.E.A.M. with traditional arthritis management methods, gives a solid path away from chronic pain, towards a healthier and happier lifestyle.
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