Flexible arthritis treatments can ease pain

By McKenzie Weiby, Contributing writer

It's easy to take for granted seemingly easy tasks such as buttoning a shirt or holding a pen, but to arthritis sufferers, these can be big hurdles.

And the swollen, sore joints it causes affect young, old, overweight or underweight people -- about 46 million people in the U.S.

In fact, about one in five people have some symptoms of arthritis, according to The Arthritis Foundation.

But nobody has to suffer without hope of relief, experts say.

"It's a misconception that as you get older, you just have to deal with it," said Danniele Leitner-Baxter of the foundation.

Exercise Helps

"Exercise is key," said Leitner-Baxter. She encourages arthritis patients to participate in range of motion and strength exercises for any affected areas. That can include the neck, arms, fingers, chest or legs. Weights and bands can be used to gain strength.

She also suggested aquatics programs because they're easier on joints and the resistance burns more calories than traditional exercises. Dry-land fitness programs such as yoga, Pilates or low-impact cardiovascular exercises can also be good.

"It's all about finding an exercise that works specifically with you," said Leitner-Baxter. One fix will not work for every person, and you may need some trial and error before finding relief.

Whatever you settle on, it is important to take time to warm up in order to prevent further damage to joint and muscles.

Other Treatments

Sometimes, exercise does not do the trick, and other methods can be considered.

WebMD said that common treatments include drugs such as Celebrex, Enbrel, methotrexate and Remicade. Others try over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Other people try alternative methods such as acupuncture.

But sometimes the path to relief doesn't include anything from a doctor or store.

"Some people with juvenile and other forms of arthritis can benefit from sitting with warm towels each morning, in order to get ready for the day," Leitner-Baxter said.

The heat from the towels can help loosen muscles and joints to make movements easier.

Heating pads can also do the trick, but the focus is to remember not to rush; it is essential for people with arthritis to take their time getting ready in the morning when their joints are stiff.

Goals Of Treatment

Whatever method you use to treat arthritis, the goals should be decreasing pain, increasing mobility, slowing the progression of the disease and preventing joint damage, according to Carol and Richard Eustice on About.com:Arthritis.

There are also tricks that can make life with arthritis easier.

"Devices can help," said Leitner-Baxter. "Try sticky pads to open jars, and helpers for zippers."

Her group also provides a list of easy-to-use products.

Making Changes

A bigger change can be remaking your body.

"Losing weight affects the amount of weight on a joint, so the weight you lose decreases the amount of pressure on your joints," she said. "Even losing 10 pounds makes a big impact on effects of arthritis."

Posture can have an effect on some symptoms, as well. Make sure that you are sitting up straight while seated. Make sure the posture of your hands and wrists is correct when working on a computer. Check the firmness of your bed -- depending on your sleeping position, you may need a softer or firmer bed to alleviate some pain.

Do You Have Arthritis?

While anyone can take steps to improve their overall health and joint conditioning, those having problems should get checked by a doctor.

Symptoms that may be signs of arthritis include joints that are swollen, stiff, sore or hot to the touch. Fatigue and swollen organs or eyes can also indicate a problem.

The Arthritis Foundation offers an online quiz to see if you are at risk and links local programs for those suffering with arthritis.

But seeing a doctor can get you profession guidance to improve your pain management and treatment of symptoms.

Children especially need to see the correct specialist, and there are few pediatric rheumatologists available to offer treatment.

Spotting Arthritis In Your Furry Friends

Humans aren't the only animals to experience arthritis. As many as 1 in 5 pets exhibit signs of arthritis.

Signs that Fido could have arthritis can include favoring a limb, difficulty sitting or standing, increased sleeping, hesitancy running, jumping or climbing stairs, weight gain and being less alert.

Leitner-Baxter stressed that, whether talking about a child, adult or an animal, prevention is the best medicine.

"When you take care of your joints, you take care of your arthritis," said Leitner-Baxter. "Do things you can do now to slow the progression in the future."