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Living with osteoarthritis

5-minute read

With the right support, you can lead a healthy, active life with osteoarthritis. It doesn’t have to get worse and it doesn’t always lead to disability.

To maintain physical and mental health a good diet and regular exercise will help keep muscles strong and control your weight, which is good for osteoarthritis and also has other health benefits.

It is important to look after your joints, as you are more likely to injure them if you have osteoarthritis. Make sure you pace yourself, have plenty of rest breaks and stop if you are in pain. Always try to use the strongest and largest muscles and joints to reduce pain and stress on the joints, for example using your thigh muscles instead of your back for lifting. You may need to change the way you do things to avoid putting your joints in unstable positions. It is important to take your medicine as prescribed, even if you start to feel better.

Continuous medicine can help prevent pain. If your medicine has been prescribed ‘as required’, you may not need to take it in between painful episodes. If you have any questions about the medicine you are on, discuss them with your doctor.

There is a wide variety of simple and practical home care and lifestyle aids available, designed to help reduce pain associated with your arthritis and improve your comfort, safety and ability to carry out tasks.

Managing osteoarthritis

The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from person to person, and between different affected joints.

The amount of damage to the joints and the severity of symptoms can also vary. For example, a joint may be severely damaged without causing symptoms, or symptoms may be severe without affecting the movement of a joint.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be eased with a number of different treatments. Mild symptoms can often be managed with exercise or by wearing suitable footwear. However, in more advanced cases of osteoarthritis, other treatments may be necessary.

Treatments include non-drug treatments, including physiotherapy and weight loss, medications such as painkillers, and surgery.

In the home

Around your home, products that can help you maintain your independence include:

  • key turners and door knob covers
  • specially designed scissors with large handles
  • book holders to avoid strain on the wrists and joints
  • pick-up reachers (a tong-like implement that makes reaching for and grasping objects easier)
  • rubber grips for pens and pencils - these mean you will not have to grip as hard
  • ejector seat chairs, which may help people with limited mobility
  • light, long-handled brooms and dustpans to avoid bending

You will also be able to access products to make life easier. These include products to help you getting dressed, work in the kitchen or in the garden, or to manage independently in the bathroom.

More information can be found on these types of products at:

  • Learn more about Arthritis: aids and equipment to help at www.mydr.com.au.
  • Arthritis Australia website has a booklet ‘At home with arthritis’.
  • Arthritis Australia arthritis information line: 1800 011 041.
  • Get your GP to refer to you to local public or private occupational or physiotherapists. If you are seeing a therapist privately, a Chronic Disease Management care plan can provide some Medicare rebates for these visits.
  • Independant Living Centres (ILCs) can also provide some support. They are located in each capital city, or contact them through http://ilcaustralia.org.au or call 1300 885 886.

Preventative measures

Arthritis can sometimes make you less flexible and less mobile. This can increase your risk of having an accident.

Listed below are a number of measures you can take to limit this risk.

  • Eliminate home hazards - always keep your home well lit and remove all loose wires and cords that you may trip over. Make sure treads, rugs and carpets are secure. Keep rubber mats by the sink and in the bath to prevent slipping and always clean up spills immediately. Install grab rails in the bathroom and toilet to help you stand up without falling. Your doctor may be able to provide support and advice about safety in the home.
  • Improve your balance - exercise that helps improve your balance can prevent a fall. Ideal forms of exercise for improving balance include tai chi, yoga and dance.
  • Exchange high heels for flats - high heels are bad for your posture and make you more prone to falling, so wear flat, comfortable footwear.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol - alcohol can affect your balance, making you more likely to fall.
  • Check your sight - as you get older, you will probably experience some deterioration in your eyesight. It is important to get your sight checked regularly by a qualified optician. Poor eyesight can increase your risk of accident and injury.
  • Ask for help - if you know you have arthritis, avoid standing on chairs to reach high cupboards or change a light bulb. Take care with or even avoid if possible using ladders. Also, try to avoid doing chores that you know will cause more pain. Write a list of the jobs that need to be done around the house and save it for the next time your friends or family visit.

Last reviewed: June 2018

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