Things Every Arthritis Sufferer Should Have
Be prepared for any flare-ups with this toolkit.
Osteoarthritis can be painful on a good day, and on a bad day, a flare-up can completely derail your plans. While you may be tempted to wait it out, there are things you can do to minimize your pain—and hopefully stop it altogether. You can start by making sure you have these important tools in your arsenal. The next time you experience a flare-up, you’ll be fully armed to stop pain in its tracks.
1. Yoga Mat
If your doctor has recommended physical activity, yoga is a great exercise to try. Practicing yoga regularly can help reduce pain in your joints, improve your joint flexibility and balance, and help reduce your stress, according to the recent research. One small study found that practicing yoga for just eight weeks improved both physical and psychological health in a group of people who had either knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. You can even do it on a day when you’re having a flare-up—just go slow and be careful not to overtax the joint that’s bothering you, as an expert explained to the Arthritis Foundation. While you can do yoga at home, if you’re new to the practice, consider taking a few classes with a certified instructor, who can help you figure out what modifications to make and props to use so you’re comfortable.
2. A Relaxing App
Your pain is real, but practicing mindful meditation can help reduce your pain. In one study, participants who suffered from chronic back pain and practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction or cognitive behavioral therapy two hours a week for two months showed improvements in function and reported reduction in pain, compared with usual care. Keep a mindfulness app at the ready on your phone, or close your eyes during a flare-up of pain and take a few deep breaths while counting to 10 with each inhale and exhale.
3. Massage Oils
Massage can lead to improvements in pain, stiffness, and range of motion in people with arthritis. How? Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but studies have shown that massage can increase your body’s production of serotonin (which can improve mood) and lower production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and neurotransmitter substance P (which can improve sleep). When participants in one small study of 68 adults with knee osteoarthritis received twice-weekly massage sessions for four weeks and then once-weekly massage sessions the following four weeks, they reported experiencing less pain and stiffness, and had a greater range of motion. If your doctor clears you to try massage but regular trips to the spa aren’t a realistic option, ask your doctor or a massage therapist to teach you some self-massage techniques, and invest in massage oils in your favorite relaxing scent.
An OTC medicine like Advil can help relieve minor pain from an arthritis flare-up, and even comes with an easy-open cap. Keep a bottle in places where you spend the most time besides your home (i.e. at your desk), so it’s at the ready wherever you are.
5. Epsom Salts
If you aren’t taking baths, you should start—warm water stimulates blood flow to stiff muscles and joints. To take your bath to the next level, add Epsom salts, or magnesium sulfate crystals. The mineral plays an important role in bone and heart health, so it’s worth adding salts next time you draw a bath to help ease painful joints. Just make sure to get salty in moderation—the National Arthritis Foundation suggests you use Epsom salts only occasionally, and if you have diabetes, you should take note that high levels of magnesium can stimulate insulin release.
6. Tennis Ball
A tennis ball is a household staple that also doubles as the perfect tool for self-massage. Place it between your pain point and a hard surface, like a wall or the floor. Roll gently over painful areas, or stay in one spot for a longer period of time to release areas of tightness. For extra relief, the National Arthritis Foundation recommends combining the benefits of self-massage and warm water by using a tennis ball in the bath, pinning it between yourself and the tub. The effects of warm water, combined with the act of massage, will work together to help loosen and stretch muscles. If the area you’re trying to massage is smaller or more delicate, you can also try using a squash ball.
7. An Open Line of Communication With Your Doctor
All of these tools may help arthritis sufferers deal with pain, but everybody is different and so is every arthritis case. Make sure you have a direct way to reach your doctor so that when you do experience a painful flare-up, you can explain your symptoms and get professional advice before trying anything new.