Living With Osteoarthritis

Although health care professionals can prescribe or recommend treatments to help you manage your arthritis, the real key to living well with the disease is you. Research shows that people with osteoarthritis who take part in their own care report less pain and make fewer doctor visits. They also enjoy a better quality of life.

Living well and enjoying good health despite arthritis requires an everyday lifelong commitment. The following seven habits are worth committing to.

Get Educated

To live well with osteoarthritis, it pays to learn as much as you can about the disease. Three kinds of programs help people understand osteoarthritis, learn self-care, and improve their good-health attitude. They are

  • patient education programs
  • arthritis self-management programs
  • arthritis support groups.

These programs teach people about osteoarthritis, its treatments, exercise and relaxation, patient and health care provider communication, and problem solving. Research has shown that people who participate in these programs are more likely to have positive outcomes.

Stay Active

Regular physical activity plays a key role in self-care and wellness. There are four types of exercises that are important in helping you manage arthritis.

  • Strengthening exercises help maintain or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis.
  • Aerobic conditioning exercises improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function.
  • Range-of-motion exercises help reduce stiffness and maintain or increase proper joint movement and flexibility.
  • Balance and agility exercises help you maintain your balance and reduce the risk of falling.

You should start each exercise session with an adequate warm-up and begin exercising slowly. Resting frequently ensures a good workout and reduces the risk of injury.

Before beginning any type of exercise program, consult your doctor or physical therapist to learn which exercises are appropriate for you and how to do them correctly because doing the wrong exercise or exercising improperly can cause problems. A health care professional can also advise you on how to warm up safely and when to avoid exercising a joint affected by arthritis.

To see examples of exercises for older adults, go to Exercises to Try or visit Go4Life®, the National Institute on Aging’s exercise and physical activity program for older adults.

Eat Well

Though no specific diet will necessarily make your arthritis better, eating right and controlling your weight can help by minimizing stress on the weight-bearing joints such as the knees and the joints of the feet. It can also minimize your risk of developing other health problems.

Control Your Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce stress on weight-bearing joints, limit further injury, increase mobility, and reduce the risk of associated health problems. A dietitian can help you develop healthy eating habits. A healthy diet and regular exercise help reduce weight.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can minimize pain and help you cope better with the effects of your disease. If arthritis pain makes it difficult to sleep at night, speak with your doctor and/or physical therapist about the best mattress or comfortable sleeping positions or the possibility of timing medications to provide more pain relief at night.

You may also improve your sleep by

  • getting enough exercise early in the day
  • avoiding caffeine or alcoholic beverages at night
  • keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool
  • taking a warm bath to relax and soothe sore muscles at bedtime.

For more tips on improving sleep, see Sleeping Well in the Sleep and Aging topic.

Have Fun

Although having osteoarthritis certainly isn’t fun, it doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. If arthritis makes it difficult to participate in favorite activities, ask an occupational therapist about new ways to do them. Activities such as sports, hobbies, and volunteer work can distract your mind from your own pain and make you a happier, more well-rounded person.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Perhaps the best thing you can do for your health is to keep a positive attitude. People must decide to make the most of things when faced with the challenges of osteoarthritis. This attitude -- a good-health mindset -- doesn’t just happen. It takes work, every day. And with the right attitude, you will achieve it.