If you have arthritis, there are a wide variety of self-study or self-directed programs to help you manage your disease and incorporate more physical activity into your personal health plan on a day-to-day basis. Here's what you can do to get started.

Explore Your Options
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Arthritis Program screens therapeutic programs for effectiveness, keeps track of promising programs that are backed by preliminary research data, and maintains a "watch list" of programs that haven't been formally evaluated but are recommended nonetheless. These programs not only provide useful information, they also help motivate you to actively participate in your own health care by joining a group exercise program, changing your diet, considering new treatments that may help prevent or manage pain and fatigue, and getting psychological help when you need it.

A Plethora of Programs
Exercise programs such as the Arthritis Foundation's Walk With Ease and Aquatics warm water exercise programs have been shown to help reduce pain and increase strength and flexibility. Both are group programs, led by experts, and can further improve the quality of your everyday life by providing social interaction with people who have similar concerns. You can find a group near you, and information about other programs, on the Arthritis Foundation website, or call them at 800-283-7800. You can use also the site or phone number to purchase self-directed guidebooks and DVDs to complement these programs.

Physical Activity programs on the CDC's "watch list" include A Matter of Balance, developed by the Partnership for Healthy Aging' (PHA), and the Arthritis Foundation's Tai Chi exercise program. The PHA program provides cognitive and behavioral techniques for reducing fear of falling and encouraging increased activity.

An all-encompassing plan also recommended by CDC is Stanford University School of Medicine's Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP). This six-week program focuses not only on arthritis but also on diabetes and lung and heart diseases, and on medication, nutrition, and communicating your needs to family friends and health care professionals as well as physical activity. Trained leaders, who live with chronic disease themselves, help facilitate workshops in community settings that teach participants skills to manage their pain, fatigue, and psychological issues. Contact your state arthritis program to find out if there is a CDSMP near you.

If you simply are not a joiner, or you cannot get to a nearby program, or no program exists nearby, you can find new ways to exercise and manage your arthritis at home. The Arthritis Research Institute of America, an organization dedicated to osteoarthritis research, provides free videos on its website of simple exercise you can do right now to help strengthen your arms, shoulders, chest, legs, buttocks, lower back, calves, ankles and hand grip. Stanford's Patient Education program offers online links to books, CDs and multi-media kits, such as The Arthritis Tool Kit, that you can order and use at home to get more exercise and also set goals, learn how to think proactively, and plan an individualized and comprehensive course of action for yourself. Before you begin any new self-directed exercise program, however, speak with your doctor or a physical therapist to make sure the exercises are appropriate

Nathan Wei, MD, reviewed this article.


Arthritis Foundation. "Aquatics." Web. 27 April 2013. http://www.arthritis.org/aquatics.php

Arthritis Research Institute. "Osteoarthritis Exercise Videos." Web. 27 April 2013. http://preventarthritis.org/diet-and-exercise-tips/osteoarthritis-exercise-videos/#prettyPhoto

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Arthritis Intervention Programs." Web. Page last updated 7 Dec. 2013. Accessed 27 April 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/interventions.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Arthritis Intervention Programs: Promising Programs." Web. Page last updated 8 Nov. 2012. Page accessed 27 April 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "State Programs. CDC's Arthritis program History." Web. Page last updated 17 Dec. 2012. Page last accessed 27 April 2013.

Stanford School of Medicine. "Chronic Disease Self-Management Program." Web. Page last accessed 27 April 2013. http://patienteducation.stanford.edu/programs/cdsmp.html