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Tips for managing your arthritis

Older Australians are a lot more susceptible to chronic health conditions as they get older, with arthritis being the most common chronic condition affecting 1.8 million (49 percent) of older Australians in 2017-18.

Last updated: February 18th 2022
If you don’t move your body, it is possible that your arthritis may get worse or you might start losing basic skills. [Source: Shutterstock]

If you don’t move your body, it is possible that your arthritis may get worse or you might start losing basic skills. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Arthritis is not only painful, it can have an impact on your mental health and cause frustration for being unable to undertake day to day activities
  • Older people may avoid doing things they love due to the pain their arthritis causes, however, regular movement can actually help with the pain!
  • Assistive devices and products can make day to day activities easier for older people with arthritis

Arthritis is a musculoskeletal inflammation that can affect the joints making them incredibly painful and stiff. Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint inflammation conditions and usually arthritis can become worse as you age.

Around 3 in 4 Australians that are over the age of 45 who have arthritis also have at least one other chronic condition as well.

Occupational Therapist from InHand Occupational Therapy, Elisha Stefanelli, says that our hands are the gateway to our environment, so any pain, stiffness or loss of mobility in our hands can greatly impact a person’s daily living and sense of accomplishment and purpose.

“Continued daily struggle with menial tasks can contribute to feelings of frustration, despondency and hopelessness,” explains Ms Stefanelli.

“Our patients often come to us after a long journey of multiple appointments with varying specialists and health professionals.

“They are mentally fatigued and have decreased resilience to cope with the day to day struggle of simple tasks associated with mobility issues. This can greatly impact an individual’s sense of self worth.”

However, arthritis doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you love! Here are Ms Stefanelli’s tips to managing and living with arthritis.

1. Keep using the affected area

One of the most important tips from Ms Stefanelli is to keep using your body if you have arthritis.

She says many people stop doing what they love because they are worried about the pain or fear doing more damage to the affected area. However, that is not the case and regular movement helps to prevent pain and stiffness that is linked to arthritis.

If you don’t move your body, it is possible that your arthritis may get worse or you might start losing basic skills that you previously did easily.

“Use it or lube it” is a favourite saying of Ms Stefanelli, she says it is vital for older people to keep using their body and moving to keep their joints lubricated – movement can be the best treatment!

2. Utilise assistive devices

Ms Stefanelli says that common complaints they hear from patients is difficulty using everyday appliances, like pouring boiling water from a kettle to make tea or coffee.

There are a lot of different assistive devices and products available on the market that can help with those basic everyday tasks and allow you to live life to the fullest.

Non-slip mats can be really beneficial in the home to prevent falls and multipurpose grip tools can assist with basic daily tasks like brushing your teeth or shaving.

If you struggle unlocking doors because the keys are too small there are key turners that can be attached to your keys or you may find spring shoe laces as an easier way to secure your shoes without having to tie a knot.

There are also products that take over all the hardwork for you, like automatic bottle openers.

In the kitchen consider replacing household appliances with smaller sized or adapted items so they are easier to manage. An example is the Uccello Kettle, a special tipping kettle that is effortless to use for a person with hand mobility issues, shakiness or muscle weakness, or if you need to open tight jars, the Uccello Grip Mat can assist you in opening jars with ease.

Ms Stefanelli also suggests changing out every day heavy home objects, like kitchen pots or homewares, to lighter products so you won’t have to use difficult or heavy items.

To find more assistive products that may suit your personal daily living needs, visit the DPS Shop website.

3. Manage your pain levels

Ms Stefanelli says, “Often arthritis is painful, and therefore people avoid moving the joints in their hand to avoid this pain. At our clinic we look at ways to manage the pain.”

Some of these techniques include using heat, compression (like gloves), activity modification or simplification, and energy conservation.

Since arthritis can cause swelling, inflammation or stiffness in your joints, utilising hot and cold methods can be really beneficial. For instance, applying a heat pad to any aching joints can relieve the pain in that area for a time, whereas, the use of cold packs can help with any inflammation in joints.

Whereas activity modification and simplification can include swapping out daily activities with assistive technology and products, like easy grip cutlery.

“We encourage our patients to look at how they use their hands and to look for ways to reduce strain and wear and tear on their joints. This is often in the form of assistive devices. We also recommend exercises to keep the joints moving.”

4. Do regular joint exercises

The most common areas affected by arthritis tend to be the joints in your hands, knees, feet and ankles, hips, and shoulders.

These are important areas for movement and mobility, so it can be really important to continue doing exercise to not only keep your current joint abilities, but also to reduce your arthritis pain.

As your hands are the most common area to be affected by arthritis, Ms Stefanelli suggests hand exercises that can be done daily to help maintain finger range of motion called Tendon Gliding Exercises, like the Hook, the Flat Fist, the Long Fist, and the Full Fist.

For full body exercise, she recommends gentle strengthening exercises like hydrotherapy, pilates or senior gym programs. Try to avoid high impact exercises or sports that involve hard turns or jarred stopping, like running or netball.

Any exercise that encourages flexibility and strength, such as yoga or pilates, can be beneficial for your arthritis, and your overall health and fitness can also have a positive impact on living with arthritis.

Visit a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to get advice on arthritis joint exercises and information on managing your arthritis.

How do you manage your arthritis and the associated aches and pains? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Top health concerns for older people

Allied health to assist with the ageing experience

Keep mobile and stay independent


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