Psoriatic Arthritis: 5 Simple Ways to Protect Your Joints
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Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease that affects 15 to 30 percent of people with psoriasis, according to the American College of Rheumatology. It is an autoimmune disorder that can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
While protecting joint health is important for everyone, it’s especially critical if you have psoriatic arthritis, says James R. O'Dell, MD, a professor, chief of the division of rheumatology and immunology, and vice-chairman of the department of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Taking steps to protect your joints can help ease symptoms of psoriatic arthritis and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.
Here’s how to be proactive about your joint health:
Ready, set, go— then rest. "Active joints are healthy joints, but if your joints are painful and swollen from arthritis, the best activity is usually rest," Dr. O'Dell says. Avoid activities that hurt your joints while you’re doing them or leave them achy the next day. Always get the green light from your doctor before you begin any exercise program.
Aim high with low impact. "Jogging might be good for your heart, but not your joints," O'Dell says. Stick to low-impact aerobic exercise for better joint health. Smart options include walking, swimming, cycling, or using an elliptical machine.
Flex your muscles. "If you let your muscles get weak or stiff, your joints will suffer," O'Dell says. Exercise isn’t just about cardiovascular health. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises protect joints, as does strengthening the muscles that support them. Ask your doctor to help you customize a strength and flexibility program that’s best for you. Here are the basics:
- Isometric exercises (contractions of particular muscle groups) are the best type of strength exercises for arthritis because they work by tightening muscles without stressing joints. Strength training should be done every other day to give your muscles time to recover between sessions.
- Range of motion and stretching exercises should be done every day and before strength training. Yoga and tai chi are great fitness disciplines that focus on stretching. One stretching rule to remember: Never stretch a cold muscle — always warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of aerobics done at a gentle pace, the Arthritis Foundation suggests.
Practice joint protection. Get in the habit of preventing joint pain and damage by taking these precautions:
- Lose weight if you’re overweight. Every extra pound puts added pressure on your joints. In terms of your knees, for example, it translates to about 4 additional pounds of strain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. If you're 20 pounds overweight, for instance, your knees are bearing an added 80 pounds of pressure. If you’re unsure of what would be a healthy weight for you, ask your doctor.
- Stand up straight. Good posture also reduces strain on your joints.
- Don't overuse your joints. Instead of sticking with one type of exercise, add some variety. For example, take a day off of walking or using the treadmill and ride a bike or try an elliptical machine.
- Protect your joints with safety gear, such as work gloves when working with your hands and kneepads when gardening.
- Shield your joints from cold weather, which can increase arthritis pain.
Check for other ailments. If you have psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis isn’t the only joint disease that may affect you. “Joint problems like osteoarthritis and gout are also common in people with psoriasis, so you need to protect your joints," O'Dell advises. And if you’re already living with psoriatic arthritis or another form of arthritis, taking care of your joints can help you minimize pain and prevent further joint damage. Work with your healthcare team to develop a comprehensive joint protection program to keep you as healthy and active as possible.
With additional reporting by Diana K.
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