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Non-Medication Management of Arthritis

A well-rounded management plan for arthritis includes several important components. Taking control of your disease means making sure your body is as healthy and strong as possible. This means eating well, making sure you get enough of the right vitamins and minerals, maintaining a healthy body weight, doing the right kinds of exercise, managing stress levels and making your home and work environments as supportive and accessible as possible.

Nutrition
There is no "magic arthritis diet" that can cure a person's arthritis, or eliminate its symptoms. Unproven diets, or "miracle cures", are commonly found on the internet, and rumors abound about certain foods to eliminate or eat in excess. It is important to remember that few of these theories have ever been scientifically examined, and none have been scientifically proven to be effective.

As with many other conditions, eating a balanced diet with the proper amounts of the right types of food will allow your body to function at its optimal level when you are living with arthritis. You should eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups each day.

Vitamins and Minerals
Very few people are able to get all of the recommended amounts of crucial vitamins and minerals from diet alone. Even for people with very healthy diets that include good amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamin supplements may be helpful.

Maintaining recommended levels of important vitamins and minerals in the body is important for everyone, and this is especially true for people with arthritis. For many people with severe arthritis, active disease makes it challenging to prepare and eat the wide variety of healthy foods necessary to maintain adequate vitamin and mineral levels in the body. Also, many arthritis medications are known to deplete vitamins and minerals from the body, or interfere with the body's ability to absorb these nutrients. For example, prednisone is known to impede calcium absorption.

For these reasons, many health care professionals recommend that people with arthritis take vitamin supplements. A high-quality multivitamin is a good first step. For many people, this may provide all of the extra vitamins and minerals needed. For others, further supplements may be required.

One issue experts tend to agree on is that Calcium and Vitamin D are critically important nutrients for people with arthritis. The average adult should consume 1000 - 1500 mg of calcium, and 400 - 800 IU of Vitamin D, each day. For people who are not able to get enough of these nutrients from food alone, supplements may be a good option.

Before starting on any vitamin plan, speak with your Doctor, Pharmacist, or Registered Dietician. He or she will be able to tell you whether further supplementation may be required.

Exercise
Two-thirds of Canadians with arthritis believe that exercise poses the risk of aggravating their symptoms. The truth is that being physically active is a key prevention strategy for chronic diseases like arthritis as it protects joints by strengthening the muscles and tissues around them. Exercise actually ‘feeds’ the joints, because cartilage depends on joint movement to absorb nutrients and remove waste. Keeping a healthy body weight is also critical. For each pound of excess body weight lost, there is a corresponding four-fold reduction in the load exerted on the knee joint when walking. This means for people who are overweight, losing 10 pounds can decrease the stress on the knees by 40 pounds every step they take.

As part of an exercise program, heat and cold can be used to decrease pain and stiffness. Hot showers can often relax aching muscles and reduce pain, while applying cold compresses such as ice packs to swollen joints can help reduce heat, pain and inflammation and allow a person to exercise more freely, or recover from exercise more quickly.

Physiotherapy
Physiotherapy is often part of a well-balanced treatment plan for many types of arthritis. It focuses on maintaining, restoring or improving physical function as well as preventing and managing pain, through the use of non-medication treatments.

Some of the treatments used by physiotherapists include:
Thermotherapy – application of heat or cold to affected joints
Electrotherapy – electric nerve stimulation
Manual therapy – a hands-on approach 
Exercise – range of motion, strengthening, or general conditioning exercises can be used to improve strength, mobility and flexibility

Occupational Therapy
The goal of occupational therapy is to provide strategies for dealing with any part of your life that your arthritis has made more difficult. These areas often include housekeeping, personal care, and workplace issues. In addition to the many adaptive devices available on the market, many simple "do-it-yourself" strategies exist. As well, occupational therapy may help you learn how to set up your daily routine, so that you engage in the most difficult or tiring activities at times in your day when you have the most energy.