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Living with osteoarthritis

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In the past few years, have you noticed that your joints aren’t keeping up as much as they used to? Is osteoarthritis making it harder for you to move, reducing your mobility and causing discomfort and pain? If your daily life has become more difficult because of the symptoms of osteoarthritis, read what follows.

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Aging does have some undeniable advantages: gaining experience and wisdom, more time for yourself, enjoying grandchildren, etc. However, some will say that aging also brings on little and not-so-little aches and pains that can often keep us from living life to the fullest. Osteoarthritis is a good example of age-related diseases that can curb one’s enthusiasm and impede on well-being. This article presents measures that can allow you to reduce the impact of osteoarthritis on your life.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease that targets the joints and is caused by a degradation of the cartilage that covers bone extremities. Cartilage is a naturally soft connective tissue that allows bones to move smoothly. It absorbs the pressure that is applied to the joint. When cartilage is worn, bones can rub against one another, causing pain. The joints that mostly support body weight, such as ankles, knees, hips and spinal cord, are the ones that are most often affected

It is estimated that in Canada, approximately one in 10 people suffers from osteoarthritis. Less likely to affect young people, osteoarthritis usually targets older adults. Indeed, after the age of 70, the chances of developing this disease are high: up to 8 out of 10 people are affected. There is still no treatment to cure osteoarthritis, only treatments to alleviate its symptoms.

How can I tell if I have osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis does not affect everyone the same way. Many people don’t have any symptoms at the onset of the disease, but they gradually appear as osteoarthritis progresses. Symptoms include:

  • painful joint;
  • stiff joint or difficulty moving it;
  • occasional swelling of a joint;
  • deformation of a joint.

Your lifestyle can influence the evolution of osteoarthritis, as well as contribute to symptoms or to the relief of symptoms. Here is what you can do to improve your condition.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. A surplus of weight causes additional pressure and mechanical stress on your joints, especially the ones that support the body, such as knees and hips. If you suffer from osteoarthritis, maintaining a healthy weight is definitely an advantage.

Here are a few tips to help you keep a trim figure:

  • Follow the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar.
  • Opt for lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
  • Drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary and high-calorie drinks, such as soft drinks and juice.
  • Call on the expertise of a nutrition specialist.

Exercise regularly

Moving more can provide you with countless benefits, including lessening your osteoarthritis symptoms, such as joint stiffness and pain. The effects of exercise are multiple and include:

  • contributing to a healthy weight;
  • maintaining muscle tone and strength;
  • improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your joints;
  • maintaining flexibility in your joints.

Here are a few examples of physical activities that can be particularly helpful to people suffering from osteoarthritis:

  • swimming;
  • cycling;
  • walking;
  • dancing.

If you would like to exercise more, here are a few tips:

  • Start gently and progress slowly.
  • Start with sessions of 15 to 20 minutes, two to three times a week. Ideally, it would be good to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, or almost.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy to stay motivated and assiduous.
  • Talk to your doctor to get advice on exercises you can do and their intensity. He or she will take into account your health condition to minimise risk.
  • Call upon the expertise of a physiotherapist or other specialist in physical activity.

Natural health products

Some natural health products that are available over the counter have been proven to relieve osteoarthritis pain, such as, for example, glucosamine and chondroitin. But faced with an array of products claiming to help with this health problem, it can be difficult to choose the right one. Here are a few tips for those who are considering taking a supplement or a natural health product:

  • Always seek the advice of your pharmacist since some products may not be suitable for you or might interact with medication you are taking.
  • Follow the dosage recommendations provided by your pharmacist or by the product manufacturer. Don’t take more or less than what is indicated. In most cases, you must take the product every day to feel its benefits.
  • Be patient. Most products take a few weeks to become fully effective.

Other simple measures

  • Have a good posture every day.
  • Take it easy on the affected joint (moving a piano might not be a great idea if you have osteoarthritis in the knee, for example).
  • Listen to your joints. If pain occurs during an activity or movement, stop doing it.
  • Avoid factors that worsen your symptoms, such as exposure to humidity or cold.
  • Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes.
  • Consider using an orthopedic aid, such as a mobility aid, an orthotic or a knee brace. This will allow you to spare the affected joint.
  • Apply cold or heat on your joints to relieve the pain.
  • Take advantage of moments of relaxation and rest often.

Medication and surgery

Although the measures described in this article can contribute to relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis, it is possible that they will keep bothering you. Consequently, using medication could be appropriate. The first choice for treatment is acetaminophen, an analgesic. Taking it occasionally or regularly provides effective relief to many people who suffer from osteoarthritis. Because it is considered to be effective and generally safe, it is advisable to try acetaminophen before thinking of other medications. However, if it is not the right choice for you, or if it doesn’t provide the relief you were hoping for, your doctor and pharmacist can talk to you about other therapeutic measures. Never take medication to alleviate your symptoms without seeking the advice and consent of a health professional.

In the most severe cases of osteoarthritis, surgery might be an option. Your doctor can give you more information about surgery if it is appropriate for you.

All of your daily actions have an influence on many aspects of your health. You have the power to take control over osteoarthritis before it takes control over your joints and your life!

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