People with osteoarthritis can enjoy good health despite having the disease. How? By learning self-care skills and developing a “good-health attitude.”
Self-care is central to successfully managing the pain and disability of osteoarthritis. Patients have a much better chance for a rewarding lifestyle when they educate themselves about the disease and take part in their own care. Working actively with a team of health care providers enables people with the disease to minimize pain, share in decision making about treatment, and feel a sense of control over their lives. Research shows that patients who take part in their own care report less pain and make fewer doctor visits. They also enjoy a better quality of life.
Self-Management Programs Do Help
People with osteoarthritis find that self-management programs help them:
Understand the disease
Reduce pain while remaining active
Cope physically, emotionally, and mentally
Have greater control over the disease
Build confidence in their ability to live an active, independent life.
Self-Help and Education Programs
Three kinds of programs help people learn about osteoarthritis, learn self-care, and improve their good-health attitude. These programs are:
Patient education programs
Arthritis self-management programs
Arthritis support groups.
These programs teach about osteoarthritis, its treatments, exercise and relaxation, patient/health care provider communication, and problem solving. Research has shown that these programs have clear and long-lasting benefits.
Enjoy a “Good-Health Attitude”
Focus on your abilities instead of disabilities.
Focus on your strengths instead of weaknesses.
Break down activities into small tasks that you can manage.
Incorporate fitness and nutrition into daily routines.
Develop methods to minimize and manage stress.
Balance rest with activity.
Develop a support system of family, friends, and health professionals.
Exercise: Regular physical activity plays a key role in self-care and wellness. Two types of exercise are important in osteoarthritis management. Therapeutic exercises keep joints working as well as possible. Aerobic conditioning exercises improve strength and fitness, and control weight. Patients should be realistic when they start exercising. They should learn how to exercise correctly, because exercising incorrectly can actually cause problems.
Most people with osteoarthritis exercise best when pain is least severe. Start with an adequate warmup and begin exercising slowly. Resting frequently ensures a good workout. It also reduces the risk of injury. A physical therapist can evaluate how a patient’s muscles are working. This information helps the therapist develop a safe, personalized exercise program to increase strength and flexibility.
Many people enjoy sports or other activities in their exercise program. Good activities include swimming and aquatic exercise, walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing, and using exercise machines and exercise videotapes. (For more information on exercise and arthritis, see the illustration below.) People with osteoarthritis should check with their doctor or physical therapist before embarking on an exercise program. Health care providers will suggest what exercises are best for you, how to warm up safely, and when to avoid exercising a joint affected by arthritis. Pain medications and ice applications may make exercising easier.
Body, Mind, Spirit: Making the most of good health requires careful attention to the body, mind, and spirit. People with osteoarthritis must plan and develop daily routines that maximize their quality of life and minimize disability. They also need to evaluate these routines periodically to make sure they are working well.
Good health also requires 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 enjoy it.