October 12 was World Arthritis Day. A majority of Canadians will be affected by arthritis by age 70, says the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis found in seniors, affects a higher proportion of women from age 55 onwards than men. In women, the condition seems to affect the hands, knees, ankles and feet, usually impacting multiple joints. In men, the hips, wrists and spine are more often affected, according to PHAC.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help prevent arthritis or ease common symptoms such as pain, stiffness, swelling or problems in moving a joint:
1. Do low-impact exercise. Research shows that regular, low-impact physical activities, such as tai chi and walking on soft surfaces like grass or paths, make you stronger and reduce pain and stiffness, according to Active Aging Canada.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra pounds increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees, hips, ankles, spine and feet and the rate at which these conditions progress, says the Arthritis Society. Overweight older adults who lost just 10% of their body weight reported less pain, better knee function, improved mobility and better quality of life, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association study.
3. Apply heat and cold appropriately. Taking a hot bath or shower, or using a heating pad, can help reduce pain and stiffness, says the Arthritis Society, but using heat on an inflamed joint can make symptoms worse. Use cold, such as ice packs, to relieve pain from swelling and inflammation.
4. Move in water. Hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy reduces pain and joint tenderness for people with hip and knee osteoarthritis, without an impact on your joints, says the Arthritis Society.
5. Reduce stress on joints. Assistive devices such as canes, crutches, braces, splints and grab bars can be used to help reduce stress and strain on the joints, says Alberta Health Services. Doorknob extenders can be used to open doors without twisting the knob and moulded or padded handles make objects such as keys, kitchen gadgets, combs and toothbrushes easier to hold.
6. Practice relaxation techniques. Mindfulness meditation, yoga breathing and other mind-body practices like progressive muscle relaxation can help ease chronic joint pain and the depression that often accompanies chronic pain, says the Arthritis Foundation.
Also, consult with your doctor about appropriate medications, if necessary, to help manage symptoms or limit the progression of arthritis.