Two of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are stiffness and swelling, although the latter may be less common in osteoarthritis. If you have arthritis, these symptoms may be worse at certain times of the day or the month. If left untreated, you may experience more pain and less joint function. Here are a few tips to help you cope:

• Protect your joint Weak and unstable joints make swelling, stiffness and pain worse. Braces can offer the proper support and relieve your symptoms. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), there are two types of braces: an “unloader” brace shifts load away from the affected portion of the knee; a “support” brace helps support the entire knee load. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about the best type of brace for your condition.

• Use heat or cold wisel Hot and cold packs help to relieve arthritis symptoms, but they should be used based on the type of arthritis you have, advises the AAOS. For instance, an ice pack may relieve swelling in some people; in others, heat may aggravate it. Also, if you have circulatory problems, you shouldn’t apply cold packs. Speak to your doctor about which treatment is appropriate for your symptoms to get the best relief.

• Get moving Stiff, swollen joints may make you reluctant to exercise — but that’s exactly what those sore muscles need. Without proper exercises your joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments will become weaker, stiffer and more swollen. The American College of Rheumatology explains that any comprehensive exercise program will consist of four main classes of exercise: flexibility, range of motion, strengthening, and aerobic. Work closely with your doctor and physical therapist to develop an effective regimen for your arthritis.

• Ask your doctor about stronger med In the early phase of arthritis your doctor may prescribe common medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. As your condition progresses, these drugs may not be as effective at controlling your symptoms. Modern arthritis drugs, including Cox-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex® and corticosteroids, help to reduce inflammation.

• Keep track of drug reaction Some arthritis drugs may cause your joints to become swollen. According to the ArthritisFoundation, popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can cause an allergic reaction in some people that can lead to localized swelling in the joints. Monitor your symptoms and if you suspect that drugs may be increasing swelling in your joints, ask your doctor about alternatives.

• Lose weight Several studies show that being overweight can make arthritis symptoms worse. In one study conducted at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, researchers found that overweight people are more likely to suffer from arthritis in their hips and knees as they age. The extra weight increases joint damage and fluid buildup.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define a healthy body mass index (BMI) for adults as between 18.5 to 24.9. Depending on how much higher your BMI is than this, you’re either overweight or obese and should lose weight to improve your arthritis. Before you run out and buy a gym membership, however, visit your doctor for a checkup and for advice on a healthy weight loss plan.

• Consider complementary or alternative treatments Some people with arthritis swear by treatments such as massage or acupuncture to relieve swelling, stiffness and pain. If you try any of these procedures, look for certified practitioners with at least two years experience treating your condition. For acupuncture treatment, make sure needles are used only once.

Study Reference
Journal: Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, Vol.68 (4) pp. 490-496
Study Date: 2009 (Published Online First: 8 May 2008)
Study Name: Incidence of severe knee and hip osteoarthritis in relation to different measures of body mass: a population-based prospective cohort study
Author(s): L S Lohmander, M Gerhardsson de Verdier, J Rollof, P M Nilsson, and G Engström