Arthritis is a leading cause of disability among American adults, with symptoms growing worse with age. Today, about 55 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis, and nearly half say their symptoms interfere with their regular, day-to-day activities. What’s more, there are probably many more men and women who deal with arthritic pain and stiffness but haven’t yet been diagnosed.
At Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas, Joshua Harris, MD, knows that while medical care plays an important role in managing arthritis, a few simple lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms as well. Here are six ways your lifestyle factors could be making your symptoms worse.
#1: Being overweight
If you have arthritis in your knees, hips, spine, feet, or ankles, losing even a few extra pounds can make a significant difference in your symptoms. Excess weight — even a small amount — puts a lot of extra pressure on your joints.
Not only can that extra pressure increase the amount of pain and stiffness you feel, but it can also “speed up” the disease process by causing additional joint damage. Plus, studies show being overweight leads to inflammation, one of the major causes of arthritis symptoms in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
#2: Leading a sedentary lifestyle
Our joints were designed to be used and moved, so it’s not really surprising that when we spend a lot of time sitting down, our joints are going to “stiffen up” and become painful. Regular movement helps joints stay healthy by promoting both the production and dissemination of natural lubricants that reduce friction and promote normal movement. Plus, when we stay active, it’s easier to keep excess pounds at bay, so the pressure on our joints is decreased.
#3: Not managing stress
Everyone experiences a little stress now and then, but if you find yourself stressed out regularly, don’t be surprised if your arthritis symptoms flare-up, too. Stress releases chemicals necessary for the flight-or-fight response — and that’s fine in the short term. But when stress continues or happens regularly, those chemicals can kick our response system into overdrive, increasing inflammation and making us more sensitive to painful stimuli.
#4: Eating an unhealthy diet
Not only can following a healthy eating plan help you maintain a joint-healthy weight, but it might even help you reduce inflammation associated with your disease. Sugary foods, red meats, high-sodium foods, and highly-processed foods can increase inflammation, especially in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Harris can help you learn about healthy food choices that promote optimal joint health and function.
#5: Ignoring your disease
All too often, people with arthritis ignore their pain or delay getting treatment because they think of their symptoms as “just part of aging.” Joint pain is never a natural response — it’s a symptom that something’s wrong. Delaying treatment means a lot more suffering for you, and it can also allow your joints to become a lot more damaged. If you have arthritis symptoms, it’s critically important to get care as early as possible.
#6: Not sticking to your treatment plan
Of course, as effective as arthritis treatment can be, it only “works” when you stick to your plan. Dr. Harris customizes each patient’s plan for their symptoms, medical needs, and lifestyle. Having regular office visits ensures your plan stays on track for maximum relief and mobility, plus it allows Dr. Harris to alter your plan when needed.
Get relief for your arthritis symptoms
There may not be a cure for arthritis, but there are many ways to effectively manage it — without relying on long-term use of prescription medications or surgery. To get relief for your painful arthritis symptoms, call our office or use our online form to book an appointment now.