Pain and aches in your bones and joints can range from mild pain and discomfort that goes away on its own to more severe and chronic aches. Even moderate, short term pain can impact our quality of life. There are some simple steps that we can all take to ensure we protect our joints and continue to live an active, pain free life.
One of the most common forms of joint pain is Arthritis. There are over 100 different types of arthritis including Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Juvenile Arthritis, Lupus, Gout, and Psoriatic Arthritis. It is unknown how many people suffer from arthritis because many are asymptomatic, meaning they have the condition without being aware however arthritis is still extremely common, even though many have not been diagnosed.
To understand more accurately the number of individuals who have arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation conducts an annual survey of those who have doctor diagnosed arthritis, as well as those with joint symptoms that could be arthritis and it was determined that over 92.1 million adults in the US could have arthritis. There are 54.4 million adults with doctor diagnosed arthritis, while the others are those with joint pain and symptoms.
This is nearly 1 in 4 American adults that have an arthritis condition. Arthritis is the most common condition for prescription of opiods in the US as it is the most leading causes of disability causing an increase in the missed days of work, decrease in abilities to perform everyday life activities and occupations, and an increase in healthcare costs.
After reading some of these staggering numbers and how arthritis can affect most people in their lives, it is important to learn and understand how to best protect our joints from further degeneration to help minimize symptoms as best as possible. Joint protection can be used by everyone, young and old, in everyday life occupations and tasks.
As an occupational therapist working in orthopedics, I frequently provide patients with joint protection education when they already have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic joint pain. The principles are largely the same, no matter the diagnosis, in protecting your joints. The young are not immune to joint pain and degeneration of joints, so understanding joint protection principles and incorporating these ideas into your daily activities can help prevent degenerative changes and pain in the future.
What is osteoarthritis? It is the most common form of arthritis that impacts millions of people. Many people are genetically predisposed to osteoarthritis; however, you can prevent this degeneration from becoming painful and symptomatic or help to decrease your symptoms if they are present already. The definition of arthritis itself is the inflammation of joints. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration or the wearing down of the cartilage of the joints, causing inflammation. Many of us today are walking around with arthritis of some form, however we are relatively asymptomatic. Many people, however, are walking around with arthritis, which is symptomatic, very painful, and difficult to function and perform our normal everyday life occupations.
The following are joint protection principles for reducing your joint pain symptoms or preventing joint pain symptoms:
This is by far and away the most important principle. If you are performing your daily tasks and they are causing you pain, respect this. Find another way to perform the task to decrease your pain, take breaks to prevent pain, and ask others for help when needed. The more pain you cause for yourself, the more inflammation, which in turn causes more pain. It is time to break the vicious cycle by respecting pain and decreasing inflammation.
Don’t think you can accomplish running a marathon everyday for the next few weeks. Don’t try to clean your entire house in a day. Don’t try to cook all of the dishes for a holiday dinner in one day. Plan out all of your daily tasks and break them up throughout the day, week, or month. This will allow for periods of rest and recovery and allow your joints to heal before they are asked to work again. Make sure you have the opportunity to change your position, take breaks, and mix up heavier and lighter tasks.
Try to break up your activities by taking a break. Plan out rest periods to ensure you are not getting too tired. Often, if you performed a task and got very tired or had increased pain afterwards, you did too much so try to plan differently for next time to prevent this pain.
Instead of lifting a bag or the laundry basket with your hands, try lifting and carrying with your forearms or your shoulders. This will allow smaller weaker joints to undergo less stress and strain in everyday tasks, preventing potential increased inflammation and pain.
Avoid activities that are repetitive and do not allow for a change in position, whether that be seated or standing, and do not allow for change in use of hands and upper extremities. You should attempt to change positions every 10-15 minutes.
Avoid using joints in unstable positions, such as extreme gripping or wrist range of motion. Try to use your joints in neutral positions to decrease strain.
When lifting a grocery bag or laundry basket or when pushing and pulling items, use both hands instead of only one. This will help balance out the strain placed on the joints of only one hand. It is also important to ensure proper body mechanics and using these hand and arms in a stable, relatively neutral position during activities, even if you are using both hands simultaneously.
Maintain the maximal range of motion to prevent stiffness. Maintain muscle strength around the joints. Perform range of motion and strengthening activities daily, as tolerated. A decrease in range of motion or strength can cause increased inflammation and pain as well as increased functional deficits in everyday activities.
Orthoses or splints can be greatly beneficial to put your affected joints into a rested position while performing everyday activities or while at rest, such as when you are sleeping at night. Splints usually put the joint into a functional position to ensure range of motion maintenance. It is important to wear splints only as needed and continue with your range of motion and strengthening exercises daily.
Change how you are performing your everyday activities. Is cutting meat with your usual utensil too difficult? Is it painful opening jars and bottles? Do you have difficulty scrubbing your countertops or wringing out a rag as you clean?
Try modifying or adapting these activities like building up the handles of your utensils, buying adaptive equipment such as jar openers or electric can openers. There are many options out there found online or in catalogues for those who may not have access to the internet for adaptive equipment to help you modify your daily activities to be pain free. What approaches do you take to protect your joints?
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