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May is National Arthritis Awareness Month

A “10-point program” for living well with arthritis

By Jane L. Delgado

Too many people believe that arthritis results from some combination of hard work, old injuries and aging. These misconceptions are compounded by the many testimonials about cures for arthritis or quick ways to relieve the pain. As a result of these often fraudulent messages, it is no surprise that Hispanics do not know that there are steps they can take to alleviate their arthritis and feel less pain. 

Because May is “National Arthritis Awareness Month,” it is a time to understand what arthritis means for the 50 million adults in the United States with the condition. Each person should take advantage of the opportunity to learn the facts about arthritis and the specific steps they can take to manage the condition. This is especially true for Hispanics, who tend not to seek a health care provider when they have pain, and, so, invite even more severe pain.

Arthritis, inflammation of the joints and the accompanying pain, may result from more than 100 conditions. It is not enough to be told you have arthritis; it is essential to know what is causing it. For some people, arthritis is due to wear and tear of the joints (osteoarthritis), while others may experience arthritis due to an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis), and for others the cause is not known. Knowing the kind of arthritis you have is a key step for reducing pain and maximizing what you can do to enjoy life. Unfortunately, too many Hispanics with arthritis do not even talk to their health care provider about the pain they feel because they are more focused on things that they fear may kill them, such as heart disease, cancer, etc. The tendency is to dismiss pain as something you should just live with. 

This is definitely the wrong approach. Not only do you need to know what causes your joints to hurt, you also need to know what you can do to reduce the pain. With new advances in treatment, there are steps that can be taken to prevent the condition from getting worse in many instances. Providing up-to-date information on arthritis is why I wrote the Buena Salud® Guide to Arthritis and Your Life (2012, William Morrow Books, available in English and Spanish). Dr. Jack Klippel, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation wrote the foreword. Our goal was to give the facts about what arthritis is, the many conditions that can cause arthritis, the treatments that are available, the latest scientific discoveries, and the tools and resources available for each person to use. At the core of the book is the “10-Point Program” to a healthier life.  

The “10-Point Program” is at the core of all the books in the Buena Salud® series, which are tailored to focus on the specific nuances of each condition addressed in the series (heart disease, diabetes, depression, etc.). Some of the 10 points may seem familiar, but the challenge is to think about what each statement means in the life of someone who has arthritis, specifically, how individual sufferers must redefine their goals in dealing with the limitations that may come with the underlying conditions.

If you are the person with arthritis, you need to set goals that are consistent with your present abilities and life circumstances. For example, consider the step called “Exercise for Life.” While it may sound exciting to be a triathlete, that may not be a realistic goal for someone who lives with pain. For others, the constraints might be family, school, and/or work obligations. The desired action is to consider what you have to do to meet the goal of “move more,” given your abilities and obligations. The 10 points are as follows:

1. Eat and drink for a healthy body. 

Dealing with arthritis, especially when it is in your knees and hips, requires that you maintain a healthy weight. When you lose one pound, the force on your knees is reduced by four pounds and the force on your hips is reduced by three to four pounds. The key is to try to get to the healthiest weight possible. If you weigh 200 pounds and lose 10 pounds (which is five percent of your body weight),  you will feel some relief. Getting to a healthy weight is a challenge, and maintaining a healthy weight is even more challenging for most people. There are specific steps you can take to help you reach your goal and maintain it. At a minimum, you should avoid “white” (salt, sugar, white rice, white pasta, potatoes, lard), eat some “brown” (whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice) and eat lots of “colorful” (kale, carrots, celery, tomatoes, avocados, lettuce).

2. Exercise for life. 

Movement is essential for health, even when someone has arthritis. The challenge is to identify the exercises that you can do, which will help maintain flexibility and cardiovascular health while protecting the joints.  Swimming may be something to consider, while high-impact aerobics are to be avoided by all. It is important to remember that, if something is causing you pain, you should not “push through it.”  You need to stop and consider how you should move to maintain the benefit of movement without stressing your joints. For some, the answer may be the movements involved in gardening and others may prefer easy yoga.

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This Article appears on the May 2012 issue of LPM under Health

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