What is it, Types & How to Prevent It

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Between 2019 and 2021, 21.2% of adults in the U.S. were diagnosed with arthritis, making it the nation’s leading cause of disability. But if you’re one of those approximately 53.2 million people, there is hope. 

Keep reading to explore 9 effective lifestyle changes to help arthritis sufferers reduce pain and improve quality of life. But first, let’s discuss what arthritis is.

What is arthritis?

Derived from Greek, arthritis means “joint inflammation.” It encompasses over 100 different conditions, but common symptoms include:

  • Joint swelling 
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion

These symptoms can range from mild to severe. They may fluctuate in intensity and worsen over time, leading to chronic pain and difficulty performing everyday activities like walking or climbing stairs. 

Beyond the joints, arthritis can also affect organs such as the:

While more common in women, arthritis also affects men, and can occur in both older and younger adults–although certain types are more prevalent in older adults.

Common types of arthritis

Here are the most common types of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most prevalent form. It often results from aging or injury, leading to symptoms like joint clicking, muscle weakness, and bone spurs (calcium growths on bones).
  • Gout: This type is caused by uric acid crystals in joints, causing sudden, severe pain–especially in the big toe. This is one of the only kinds of arthritis that affects more men than women. 
  • Psoriatic arthritis: This type affects those already living with psoriasis. It leads to joint pain and swelling, as well as more general and debilitating symptoms like fatigue, tendon tenderness, and even eye inflammation.
  • Reactive arthritis: This type is triggered by an infection elsewhere in the body. Experts believe certain immune cells (T lymphocytes) respond to parts of bacteria that enter the bloodstream. This response can cause symptoms like eye and urinary tract discomfort, as well as joint issues.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disorder, in which the body attacks its joints because it can’t distinguish healthy cells from harmful invaders. It can even affect internal organs, causing fatigue, fever, and potentially bone erosion and joint deformity.

Lifestyle changes to help arthritis

While there’s no known cure for arthritis, a number of conventional treatments are available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. However, primarily, these include pain-relieving medications, steroids, and joint surgery–which don’t come without risks.

If you’d prefer natural remedies or complementing conventional treatments, lifestyle changes can be extremely helpful to reduce pain, increase mobility, and boost your overall sense of well-being. Here are some of the most effective ones.

Maintain a healthy weight. 

Carrying extra weight puts pressure on your joints–especially on your knees, hips, and feet–which can exacerbate discomfort. 

According to the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation, if you’re overweight, losing just 5% of your current body weight can significantly improve symptoms.

Eat a healthy diet.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other kinds of the disease. 

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods helps:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Boost your overall well-being

Some excellent, inflammation-fighting options to enjoy regularly are:

  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale): High in vitamin K, which can lower inflammatory markers
  • Broccoli: Contains sulforaphane, which has been found to slow cartilage destruction in joints–a common issue in osteoarthritis
  • Grapes: Rich in polyphenols, known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can alleviate some arthritis symptoms
  • Berries: Rich in anthocyanins, which help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Extra virgin olive oil: Packed with polyphenols that fight inflammation and improve joint health
  • Garlic: Reduces joint inflammation, pain, and swelling due to healthy compounds like allicin
  • Ginger: Fights inflammation due to compounds like gingerols and shogaols 
  • Walnuts: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids that lower inflammation markers
  • Fatty fish: Another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids

It’s also wise to avoid inflammatory foods, as these could exacerbate your symptoms. Some critical ones to steer clear of include:

  • Foods with added sugars
  • Processed meats
  • Gluten, found in breads, pastas, and crackers
  • Other highly-processed foods such as ice cream and breakfast cereals
  • Excess sodium
  • Processed vegetable oils like canola

Consider taking turmeric.

Research shows that turmeric can help alleviate joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is known to reduce inflammatory responses, potentially easing discomfort, pain, and swelling. 

Experts recommend taking turmeric with black pepper extract to enhance curcumin’s bioavailability, making it more effective.

Get massages.

Many of us save massage therapy for special occasions only. But indulging regularly can help alleviate arthritis symptoms. 

Some benefits of massage therapy for arthritis include:

  • Pain relief, due to increased blood flow to affected areas and released endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers
  • Improved range of motion
  • Reduced muscle tension around joints
  • Stress reduction, which can further reduce pain
  • Better sleep

Use hot and cold therapy.

Hot and cold therapy is a simple, effective, natural way to manage arthritis symptoms. Warmth can reduce stiffness, while cold lessens joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. 

Heat a damp towel in the microwave for a soothing warm compress; then switch to a cold compress using a bag of frozen peas or an ice pack wrapped in cloth to minimize discomfort.

Stay active. 

Regular exercise is vital for your health and well-being. For arthritis, it can help:

  • Manage weight
  • Keep joints flexible
  • Strengthen muscles around joints for better support

Just opt for lower impact activities to reduce pressure on your joints, such as:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Tai chi

And don’t forget to stretch. Doing gentle stretches that move joints in their full range of motion can further reduce soreness and pain.

Maintain good posture. 

Maintaining proper posture is essential to reduce pressure on sore joints. You might consult a physical therapist who can teach you about correct sitting, standing, and moving techniques to minimize discomfort. 

Aim to keep your spine straight, and avoid putting excess stress on particularly painful joints.

Try acupuncture.

Acupuncture can be extremely helpful with arthritis symptoms. This treatment stimulates specific points along the body, triggering the release of pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins–reducing discomfort and promoting relaxation.

Practice mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation can significantly lessen stress and help you manage arthritis pain. This practice may not only decrease the intensity of the pain, but also change your perception of it, offering a highly effective coping strategy.

Living with arthritis can be deeply uncomfortable and challenging–but lifestyle changes can help. By integrating the above practices, you’re not only addressing the physical aspects of arthritis but also the psychological, giving yourself a holistic path to better health and well-being. 

Just remember: consistency is key. Make a commitment to stick with these habits, and monitor your symptoms so you can customize and create a regimen that works for you.


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