Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. The 2 most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. It makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness. Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments must work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs called osteophytes. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position. The most affected joints are those in the hands, spine, knees and hips.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the body’s immune system targeting affected joints, leading to pain and swelling. The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint's shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Managing your arthritis
Self-management is key to living with arthritis.
Self-management is about making positive and healthy lifestyle choices and addressing the physical and emotional effects of the disease. Having arthritis affects everyone differently, so it’s up to you to learn and practice what helps you to live well and thrive. Through self-management, you can make a big difference to how much arthritis affects your quality of life, so you can continue to say 'Yes' to the things that are important to you.
Habits that can help you successfully manage your disease are:
- Stay active - Even though it might seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, exercise is beneficial for managing arthritis and your overall health. It can strengthen muscles that support your painful joints, preserve and increase joint range of motion, improve sleep quality, boost your mood and sense of well-being and help you lose excess pounds that add stress to joints. It's important to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time, so take regular breaks and move around.
- Balance activity with rest - Rest is important when your disease is active, and your joints feel painful, swollen or stiff. Lighten your schedule and obligations and ask for help when you need to. Pace yourself throughout your day and take breaks to conserve energy.
- Take care of your joints - If you have arthritis, it's important to look after your joints to avoid further damage. For example, try to reduce the stress on your joints while carrying out everyday tasks like moving and lifting. To help protect your joints you need to use larger, stronger joints as levers – for example, take the pressure of opening a heavy door on your shoulder rather than on your hand. Use several joints to spread the weight of an object, for example, use both hands to carry your shopping or distribute the weight evenly by using a rucksack. Don't grip too tightly, grip as loosely as possible or use a padded handle to widen your grip. Good footwear can provide support and comfort for your feet – important if you have arthritis.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet - A healthy diet, when combined with exercise, can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Also, adding foods with anti-inflammatory properties and that are rich in antioxidants can help control inflammation. If you are overweight, losing weight can really help you cope with arthritis. Too much weight places excess pressure on joints leading to increased pain and mobility problems.
- Improve sleep - Poor sleep habits can worsen arthritis pain and fatigue, but there are things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Make your bedroom dark, cool and quiet, avoid caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evening and wind down with a warm bath or practice relaxation techniques before bedtime. If you are still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about a change in or timing of your medication or other ways that may improve your sleep.
Page last updated – August 2022