Many arthritis sufferers are going beyond medications to relieve pain, ease symptoms, and live better. Lifestyle changes come first, of course: If you're overweight, losing just a few pounds can make a big difference on weight-bearing joints like your knees. And quitting smoking may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis for some people. But that's just the beginning. Here are some of the most popular alternative ways to cope with arthritis:
- Tools. Ergonomic tools for use at home, in the yard or at work can reduce stress on joints. Assistive devices such as splints, shoe inserts, canes or bathtub benches can also help. An occupational therapist can instruct you on other ways to protect your joints and conserve energy-for example, learning when to rest, or using both hands rather than the weaker finger joints to lift objects .
- Heat and cold. Heat (thermotherapy), such as a hot pack or paraffin hand dip, enhances circulation and reduces pain and stiffness. Cold (cryotherapy), such as an ice pack, decreases inflammation and swelling and provides a numbing effect. Sometimes it's effective to switch between heat and cold. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about when to use them and what temperature range is safe.
- Massage and beyond. Massage can promote circulation and ease pain, but to avoid stressing joints, look for a therapist who is familiar with arthritis, advises the National Institutes of Health. Acupressure and chiropractic medicine may also ease pain.