Dr. Dan Michael
Dr. Dan Michael

Often, patients will ask me about staying active after they’ve been told they have arthritis. It can be very discouraging for people, and they might even feel like they can’t be active anymore when their joints are painful from the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is when a joint becomes painful due to inflammation from a chemical imbalance inside the joint, often due to loss of cartilage, but there are many other contributing factors. 

In most cases, pain from osteoarthritis is due to chemical imbalance, often occurring from loss of joint space and bone rubbing on another bone, but other significant factors include loss of motion from inactivity, poor motion, muscular imbalance, joint instability and more. The reality is that arthritis pain is multi-factorial, meaning many factors contribute to the pain a patient is experiencing, and loss of cartilage is just one factor. In fact, many people who have little or no cartilage manage to be as active as they’d like with a good joint health plan. 

Here are three tips to help you overcome your fears, reduce your pain, and keep moving for many more years.

Disclaimer: Always consult your primary musculoskeletal health care professional before engaging in any activity related to a muscle or joint diagnosis.

Have a movement routine

Daily routines are critical for making long-term improvements. Like weight loss, gardening, retirement savings and many other things in life, movement also responds to consistent contributions and care. There are many low-impact exercise programs that can help you develop the routine that works for you.  Among them are yoga, Pilates, tai chi, TRX and kettlebell training.

A good rehab program that is custom to your needs and specific imbalance issues, in addition to general exercises and activities, is best practice. You can start by carving out a specific time for each day of the week that you do a very doable amount of movement care. If you have trouble getting started, try setting the bar outrageously low and watch how you eventually do much more over time.

Watch what you eat

Many of us are skilled at eating food, but not many of us are skilled at selecting food when it comes to influencing inflammation in our body. Generally, eating an anti-inflammatory diet will be beneficial for your joints. Sugar and alcohol intake, as well as dehydration, are common promoters of inflammation, so for your joints it may be best to avoid them around high-activity periods. Food sensitivities and allergies can also create unnecessary inflammation throughout the body, including the digestive system, which is responsible for a large share of inflammation modulation.  A good way to start is to be mindful about how your food might be affecting your joints. 

Reduce your stress

Pain centers in the brain are linked intimately with emotional centers in the brain. During times of emotional distress, pain centers in the brain can become more active, making you more aware of signals that may be underneath the surface. Additionally, stress can trigger an inflammatory chain reaction that ultimately leads to pain, swelling and heat production. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the hottest and most recently researched cognitive therapy, with programs currently available, among other places, at the University of Washington.

Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab in Madison Park.