4 Smart Steps for Arthritis Self-Care

Arthritis is the all-encompassing name for more than 100 different types of rheumatic diseases and conditions that share similar symptoms affecting various joints and organs in the body.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that approximately 50 million people in the United States are living with some form of arthritis, making this crippling disease the country's most common form of disability.

If you are handicapped by any form of arthritis, you know the limitations the disease imposes on your ability to work, move, and generally feel comfortable, and you are probably willing to try anything that might improve your quality of life. The CDC, along with the Arthritis Foundation and other professional health organizations, support very specific, evidence-based strategies for treating arthritis. Here, four ways you can self-manage an arthritis diagnosis and improve your quality of life.

1. See your doctor regularly. Schedule routine check-ups, and make an appointment if you have new symptoms, or if there are any changes in your condition. Early diagnosis and ongoing care are essential to successful treatment and maintaining quality of life. Find a healthcare providers who can answer your questions about medications, supplements and surgical procedures appropriate for your specific type of arthritis.

2. Maintain a healthy weight. Staying within a healthy weight range can help reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis, alleviate symptoms and prevent further injury to your joints. Losing weight, if necessary, will also help reduce your risk of developing medical conditions linked to obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease.

3. Keep moving. Regular physical activity, done safely and correctly, can help reduce pain, maintain and improve physical function, boost mood and help you enjoy an all-around better quality of life. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Swimming, walking, and bicycling are among the exercises that are easier for people with arthritis, though that may depend on the specific type and location of disease. Range-of-motion exercises specific to certain joints can improve flexibility and reduce pain in those joints. Ask your healthcare provider for specific exercises.

4. Join a self-management program. Research has shown that people who participate in self-management programs have better understanding of their disease and are better able to manage their condition and improve quality of life. Two such programs, The Arthritis Self-Management Program and Chronic Disease Self-Management Program are available at some medical centers and also online through the Arthritis Foundation. In addition to your own personal physician, the healthcare providers that run self-management groups, along with fellow group members, are likely to be good sources of the most up-to-date and reliable information about specific types of arthritis. What's more, within a group setting—whether it's at a local medical center or in an online forum—you can get advice on issues such as the fatigue associated with many types of arthritis, as well as the social and psychological issues that arise when you are coping with a chronic, physically-limiting disease.

Nathan Wei, MD, reviewed this article.




Arthritis Foundation

Centers for Disease Control: Arthritis Program Key Contacts

Centers for Disease Control: Arthritis Intervention Programs

Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and
Health Promotion. "Arthritis: Meeting the Challenge of Living Well." 2013