Living with arthritis can be challenging. You may find you can’t easily bend down to pick things up off the floor or struggle with twisting open jars or other kitchen items. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and is more prevalent in Veterans than in the general population.
There are lifestyle changes and treatments available to help you manage your arthritis and maintain your quality of life.
More than 1 in 3 Veterans is diagnosed with arthritis, making it a common condition among those who have served. The good news is lifestyle changes and treatments are available to help you manage your arthritis and maintain your quality of life.
Learn more about arthritis, its symptoms and what you can do to manage your diagnosis.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis isn’t a single disease. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the term arthritis refers to joint pain or joint disease, and there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. While there are many different kinds, osteoarthritis is by far the most common type and mainly occurs in the hands, spine, hips and knees.
If you’re suffering from arthritis, common symptoms include:
- Diminished range of motion in your joints
- Permanent joint changes such as knobby finger joints
A person’s symptoms can be mild or severe and may get worse over time. For example, some people suffering from arthritis may be unable to complete daily tasks or may find they can no longer do their job as they used to.
Why Is Arthritis So Common?
Why are 35% of Veterans and close to 1 in 4 people in the general population suffering from arthritis? According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are a number of reasons why people develop osteoarthritis, including:
- Post-traumatic injuries such as a fracture or a torn ACL
- Work-related damage from physically demanding jobs such as construction
- Lifestyle factors including excess weight, lack of exercise and poor diet
- Rigorous training, deployment, and traumatic and overuse injuries put Veterans at risk specifically
Regardless of how severe your symptoms are or why you developed arthritis in the first place, there are steps you can take to manage it. Check out the ideas below.
How Can I Manage My Arthritis?
There is no cure for arthritis, so you and your health care provider should work together to create a plan that can ease your pain and improve your quality of life. According to research from the National Library of Medicine, patients benefit most from a comprehensive strategy that includes steps you can take on your own, such as exercise and education, as well as therapies or treatments that may help. Here are some suggestions:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight reduces pressure on your joints, like your hips and knees, and can relieve pain and improve your overall function. The CDC offers great resources for managing your weight. Even small amounts of weight, like 5-10 pounds, can make a big difference on your joints.
- Limit foods that may cause inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with joint pain should avoid highly processed foods, refined sugars and trans fats. To learn more about a diet to help reduce joint pain, check out their suggestions.
- Stay active. Keep your body moving by finding joint-friendly physical activities that help keep you active, at an activity level that is right for you. According to the CDC, low-impact physical activity, such as swimming, walking, biking and dancing, can decrease stress on your joints, improve your movement and boost your mood. Learn more about the benefits of physical activity, suggestions for activities, guidelines for how much activity you need and much more. The Arthritis Foundation also has a tool to help you create a physical activity routine based on your specific needs and ability level.
- Try something new. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there is emerging evidence that some complementary and integrative health approaches can be helpful for people with arthritis, including yoga, tai chi and massage therapy. Read about how Army Veteran Bill Seelaus incorporates tai chi into his personal arthritis treatment plan through VA’s Whole Health Program.
- Educate yourself on self-management strategies. According to the CDC, self-management education workshops can teach you how to control your symptoms and develop confidence in managing your own health. Check out the community-based programs that can provide you with the skills you need to help manage your arthritis.
- Consider physical therapy. Physical therapy can help you address functional limitations, develop a home exercise program and more.
- Talk to your health care provider. As with any treatment plan, it’s important that you follow the plan, attend regular appointments and talk to your health care provider about what is or isn’t working.
- Explore additional treatment options. If you’re still in a lot of pain or having trouble completing your daily tasks, it may be time to explore additional treatment options. For example, you and your health care provider can discuss over-the-counter pain relievers and medications, supportive devices such as crutches or canes, as well as surgery when symptoms are severe enough.
- The Arthritis Foundation has a page full of resources specific to Veterans. Get connected to an online community of other military members and Veterans, check out their pain management resources, get help with sleeplessness, find low-impact exercise videos, and more.
- VA provides an overview of their ongoing research and works related to arthritis in Veterans.
- The National Institute on Aging offers more information on arthritis, including how it’s diagnosed, the most common symptoms and details on treatments for osteoarthritis.
Don’t let your arthritis continue to interfere with your quality of life. Take steps to manage your arthritis and find a treatment plan that works for you.