This World Arthritis Day, Flexiseq is joining people all over the world to raise awareness. Through increasing knowledge about arthritis, we can help more people get diagnosed early and start taking the steps they need to live a fuller, less painful life.
We’ve teamed up with Arthritis Action, a UK charity which offers practical tips to help people living with arthritis improve their quality of life, to explain what arthritis is and get some tips on how to manage this condition.
What is arthritis?
“Arthritis impacts millions of people living with it every day, affecting all aspects of their lives, from their mental health to their family life, work, social activities, and physical health,” says Dr Wendy Holden, Medical Advisor at Arthritis Action,
“Arthritis literally means ‘inflammation of the joints’. Inflammation is a difficult thing to imagine and describe, but it is part of the body’s normal healing process after injury, just like the healing of a cut or bruise,” she continues “if inflammation in the joints becomes extreme, it can cause pain, stiffness and swelling.”
Arthritis is the most common disability in the UK and it is estimated that 10 million British people are living with some form of arthritis. While it is typically associated with the elderly, it can affect anyone of any age.
“The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, more usually known as “wear and tear” or degenerative arthritis which often affects people as they get older. The next most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints, and gout which is caused by uric acid crystals in the joints. ” Wendy says.
“Rheumatoid arthritis and gout are two types of “inflammatory arthritis” but there are many other forms of inflammatory arthritis including psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis,” she continues.
What can people with osteoarthritis do to help improve their quality of life?
You can’t totally prevent or cure arthritis, but you can stop it taking over your life. “There are lots of things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis and to reduce pain and improve function if you already have osteoarthritis,” says David Vaux, registered osteopath, therapies manager and exercise project lead at Arthritis Action.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way in terms of pain relief. “For every pound that you are above a healthy weight, an extra 4 or 5 pounds of weight goes through your hips, knees and feet and this can increase the pain. Reducing weight can help a lot with pain,” David says.
Weight loss and a healthy diet go hand in hand. “Keep to a healthy diet. Eating healthily can help maintain muscle and bone strength and help you keep to a healthy weight,” David explains.
Exercising might be the last thing on your mind when you have arthritis, but keeping active can reduce pain and improve your overall mindset. “Keep your muscles strong and do some exercise,” says David, “exercise that increases muscle strength can really help support the joints and reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.”
“Exercise can also help your joints because it can help with weight loss, improve posture and flexibility and reduce stress. You should try to balance active (aerobic) exercise with increasing strength (resistance) exercise plus work on flexibility (stretching) to get the best results,” he continues.
Arthritis is an obstacle, but it shouldn’t take you out of the race. “Self-management is about taking control of your symptoms and lifestyle in order to live a better life with less pain and improved function,” David says. Work with your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare professional to manage the pain so you can continue to live a full and productive life.
Why is it so important to keep moving when you have osteoarthritis?
Exercising can make your joints weaker and increase pain, right? Wrong! “Overwhelming evidence is suggesting that any joint pain will increase if the muscles around that joint are detrained,” says David, “this could be caused by long-term inactivity due to illness, surgery or indeed fear that exercise might exacerbate their condition.”
The fear that putting pressure on your joints by exercising will increase pain actually has the opposite effect - being too sedentary and avoiding exercise can actually make pain worse. Even small increases in strength can have a huge impact on your quality of life, so finding a gentle activity that you enjoy and can do regularly - such as swimming, walking or yoga - is hugely beneficial.
“Any activity which gets that person moving or experiencing something new has the potential to help with pain levels,” says David, “it seems that movement is the key to helping someone with long term pain to better manage their day and it doesn’t really matter how you do it,” David says.
“We would always suggest that you do something in the community, ideally with a friend, that has a social element. That way you’re more likely to keep going! If you are unsure if you will be able to participate at this point, then you might want to ask your GP for a referral to an exercise class, or try some home-based movements to aid you in getting more mobile and ready for a more community-based activity”.