11 Ways to Protect Your Joints While Living with Psoriatic Arthritis
If you’re living with psoriatic arthritis, you probably want to know if there are things you can do to help your condition and prevent future damage. Psoriatic arthritis tends to impact the joints in the fingers, wrists, ankles and knees. The inflammation and swelling that can occur can lead to permanent joint damage. That makes it very important to work with a rheumatologist and/or dermatologist to treat your condition medically.
“It’s better to treat effectively and aggressively from the beginning, because who knows how bad it could get over time,” says dermatologist Susan Bard, M.D. of Vive Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York. “Why allow it to get to that point?”
Medically supervised treatment is the number one thing you can do to protect your joints from future damage. But there are also some tips and tricks you can use in your daily life that can help protect your joints and make certain tasks easier while living with joint pain.
Invest in Electric Openers
Forget straining and twisting every time you need to open a jar or bottle. “Electric openers will greatly save stress on your joints and open jars and other containers more safely than by hand,” says Brittany Ferri, an occupational therapist and founder of Simplicity of Health, a Connecticut-based OT practice where she routinely works with arthritis patients.
Browse the kitchen gadget aisle to see what might be most useful to you. From jar and can openers to wine-bottle openers, there are plenty of electric kitchen tools that can make your life easier and prevent further strain on your fingers and wrists.
Get a Grip
For those times when you may not be able to use an electric opener, Ferri recommends using products made to improve your grip onto a bottle or jar you’re trying to open. “Most grippers that are made with Dycem are reliable, as this material is a staple used by many therapists in treating patients with arthritis.Try wearing rubber gloves while opening a jar or placing an elastic band around the lid for added grip.”
She also suggests running jars under warm water to help loosen them and keeping the item you want to open close to your body in order to get better leverage.
Chop It Up
If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you might also consider using a Mezzaluna Rocking Vegetable Chopper instead of a regular knife. “This puts less strain on the wrist and fingers,” says Kimberly Steinbarger, a physical therapist and director of clinical education at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, who also happens to have rheumatoid arthritis.
Dress for Less Stress
Steinbarger further suggests avoiding clothing with multiple buttons or fasteners. “Pull-on pants are trendy now, so you can still be fashionable while protecting your joints,” she says.
If you do have a zipper you’re having a hard time with, she suggests looping an elastic hair tie through the hole in the zipper pull. “This makes the zipper easier to pull. All you have to do is slip your finger through the loop.”
Say No to Excess Heat
It’s common to want to treat your pain with heat, but Ferri says that can be a mistake. “Avoid heating pads or hot baths, as heat can worsen inflammation,” she says. “Try ice packs or menthol for pain relief. Rehabilitation such as occupational and physical therapy can provide more specific interventions such as therapeutic ultrasound, paraffin, and more to help manage pain.” The paraffin bath—a warm wax to cover hands or feet with—is one way to warm and soothe joints without overheating, but check with your doctor or physical therapist first to make sure it’s right for you.
Even on the days when it feels impossible, Ferri says one of the best things you can do is to remain active. “The old saying ‘motion is lotion’ rings true. Motion, whenever it’s tolerable, will assist in managing pain and other symptoms.”
If you’re not sure what type of motion to engage in, Ferri suggests:
- Light resistance exercises
- Basic yoga
- Gentle exercise
“If you are able to tolerate slightly more repetitions or slightly longer exercise on certain days, go for it, but pay attention to your body and don't overdo it, as this can cause symptoms to worsen,” cautions Ferri.
Get in the Pool
While movement is good for arthritis, movement without strain is even better. “Getting in a pool to exercise can help unload the joint to allow less pain and better motion,” says Sara Mikulsky, D.P.T. (Doctor of Physical Therapy) at Wellness Physical Therapy in New York City. “The water can also offer resistance to help load joints to develop stronger bone.”
In addition, Mikulsky says a warm pool can help ease muscle tension and make a person dealing with arthritis feel supported and relaxed.
“Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet including vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage, along with fruits high in antioxidants, such as berries and cherries,” Ferri suggests. “While most grains should be avoided in excess to help inflammation, eating whole wheat grains, brown rice, and oatmeal can give your body the fiber it needs to fight inflammation.” She says beans, nuts and seeds are also great because of their fiber content.
You may also want to cut back on sugar. “Excessive ‘bad’ sugar in our diet can lead to an inflammation of the gut, overworked circulatory system, and excessive fat storage,” says Mikulsky. “By reducing the amount of sugar in our diet, we can reduce the overall inflammation in our bodies.”
Wear the Right Shoes
Protecting our joints often comes down to having the right footwear. For example, “if we wear a shoe with a high heel, it will move the center of gravity behind us,” explains Mikulsky. “This causes force to push down on our joints. Additionally, high heels offer little support to our feet and arches. This can cause abnormal ground-reaction forces to move through our bodies, affecting our ankles, knees, hips, and back.”
But too-flat shoes can also cause problems, Mikulsky says, as they can be nonsupportive and, therefore, equally bad for our joints. Instead, look for supportive, rubber soles with a very small heel. “If we have a ‘flat foot’ or tend to be overpronated [feet roll downward or inward when we walk], a shoe with good arch support can better absorb the ground-reaction forces,” says Mikulsky. “This type of shoe will allow us to have better biomechanics, less stress on the body, and decreased pressure on the joints.”
Stay Safe While You Sleep
It may seem counterintuitive, but the way you sleep can actually put further strain on your joints. That’s why Ferri suggests using splints or braces at night to “help keep your joints in the proper position to prevent injury and allow comfort overnight.” Ask your doctor to recommend the right one for you to use.
And if you tend to have a hard time sleeping—because of your joint pain or any other reason—she recommends meditation and deep breathing as part of your bedtime routine. “This will lower stress levels and get both your body and mind ready for a restful sleep.”
The Gentle Wake-Up
Not only can the way you sleep impact your joints, but so can the way you get up in the morning. You can begin gentle stretches before you even get out of bed. “Stretching can help move stiff joints that are slow to warm up in the morning,” Ferri says. “On some days, your body may take longer to get moving than on other days. Be patient and allow yourself the time you need.”
It’s important to listen to your body and go at the speed that feels right, not just in the morning, but also throughout your day. Some days will be easier than others. But if you find the right medical treatment, and you do what you can to protect your joints beyond that, your symptoms should be much more manageable than if you hadn’t taken those measures.