Arthritis self-care – how to look after yourself

28th November, 2022 • 9 min read

How to take good care of yourself to ease arthritis – from exercise and diet to better sleep tips. Plus tackling chores and morning stiffness.

“Living with arthritis can be tough,” says Dr. Ann Nainan, Healthily expert. “It can affect every area of your life, including your love life, work, your family life, and how likely you are to get a sound night’s sleep. But there are self-care steps you can take to help you manage your condition, alongside taking any medication you’re prescribed.”

Here’s what you can do in your daily life to make your symptoms more bearable, and help avoid flare-ups.

Exercise for arthritis

“You might find the idea of exercise off-putting when you have arthritis. Maybe you worry that it could make your painful joints feel worse and cause more damage. But your body is designed to move and exercise can be beneficial when you have arthritis,” says Healthily doctor Dr. Ann.

“It can reduce pain and strengthen your muscles, which keep your joints supported. It can reduce joint stiffness, help you manage your weight, and boost your mood – all of which is good news if you have arthritis,” she adds.

When it comes to exercise, you may need to be guided by your doctor or physical therapist. Here’s the kind of exercise that’s helpful when you have arthritis:

  • get your heart rate pumping – aerobic exercise is any kind of activity that gets your heart rate moving faster – we’re talking jogging, cycling, walking and fitness classes. Swimming and other water-based aerobic exercises are a good idea because they don’t put stress on your joints
  • and stretch – exercises such as yoga and tai chi involve bending and straightening your joints – this keeps them flexible and dials down your risk of losing mobility
  • strong muscles = supported joints – strengthening exercises are the kind where you’re working against some kind of resistance – think Pilates, tai chi, or even standing up from a chair. This type of activity is important because stronger muscles will support your joints. Aim for some form of strengthening exercise 2 days a week
  • keep your balance – activities like dancing can help with your balance. This is important because it helps reduce your risk of falling as you get older – you can be at higher risk of falls when you have certain types of arthritis. Aim for balance exercises 2 days a week

Arthritis diet – the lowdown

Following a nutritious, balanced diet can help you stick to a healthy weight, or lose some pounds if you need to. That’s important because being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing certain types of arthritis.

Plus extra weight puts extra stress on your joints, which can make the pain worse and your mobility more difficult if you have an arthritis diagnosis. You might find it helpful to:

  • eat a
    Mediterranean-style diet
    – this means stocking up on fruit, vegetables and fish and eating less red meat and butter. There’s evidence that this type of diet may help reduce inflammation when you have arthritis
  • eat more long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – these “good” fats are found in oily fish such as sardines and mackerel and they may partly relieve symptoms in some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by decreasing inflammation and possibly altering your gut microbiome

Read more here about

foods to eat and those to avoid when you have osteoarthritis
, and the foods you should go for if you have
rheumatoid arthritis
.

Gout diet essentials

With

gout
, your diet is a slightly different story. This type of arthritis happens if you have too much uric acid in your blood – it can happen if you eat a lot of food and drink that’s naturally rich in purine, a natural chemical your body produces, which is found in food.

Your diet is important here because it can play a role in getting gout in the first place, and increasing your likelihood of having a gout attack. High-purine foods and drinks that you may need to avoid include:

  • beers
  • oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines
  • game, such as pheasant and rabbit
  • seafood including crab and shrimps

Read more about foods to avoid with

gout
.

Always talk to your doctor before starting a new diet or cutting out certain foods.

Your posture

Whether you’re at work or scrolling through your phone on the couch at home, it’s important to remember good posture because this can have a positive effect on your joint health. Try to:

  • avoid slouching
  • keep your chin up
  • keep your head in line with your body
  • relax your shoulders

Your evening wind-down routine

  • a warm bath or shower in the evening might help your arthritis symptoms if a joint or muscle feels tender. Some people also find that a hot water bottle or heated pad helps soothe any joint pain. Find out more about how to manage your
    arthritis in the cold
    . For more information on how to look after yourself when it's cold, check out our
    complete guide to winter health
  • when it comes to bed, what you sleep on – and in – is crucial. If your mattress sags then it’s probably time to invest in a new one. Go for pajamas and sheets made of a material such as cotton or silk, which let you move freely
  • your best sleeping position depends on which joints are affected by arthritis pain. If you get arthritis knee pain and you’re a back sleeper, place a pillow or 2 underneath your knees at bedtime. Side sleeper? Pop 1 or more pillows between your knees. If you experience wrist or hand arthritis pain, you might find that splints can help hold your hands in a position that dials down pain.

Read how to get into

better sleep habits
.

Tips and tricks for daily living with arthritis

There are lots of tweaks you can make at home to make life easier when you have arthritis. These ideas can keep your joints in the right position so that they function at their best, and help you reach difficult places if you find it tricky to move your joints.

Adjustments at work for arthritis

You may need to make some changes to your work life to manage stiff joints.

  • got a desk job? Your desk, screen, chair, phone, and any other equipment should be set up correctly to help support your joint health. For instance, your computer screen should be about an arm’s length away from you and the top of the screen should be at eye level. When you’re talking on your phone, never have it resting between your shoulder and your ear
  • got a physical job? If you do a lot of lifting, pushing, pulling, or moving in your job, this can be a challenge when you have arthritis. Talk to your employer to make sure you have the right things you need to do your job and manage your arthritis. If you do a lot of physically demanding tasks, could you break these up with lighter tasks? And never lift or move something that’s too heavy for you – it’s far better to ask for help

Daily living and arthritis

A few tips and tricks can really help to ease the pressure and pain in your joints when you’re living with arthritis:

In the bedroom

  • use a zipper pull, buttoning aid, and long-handled shoe horn to help you get dressed and get your shoes on
  • use a hair dryer or straighteners? You might find it easier to sit at a table and prop your elbow on a pillow or cushion

In the kitchen

  • choose lightweight crockery and cups with large handles that you can grip with a few fingers
  • go for liquid soap in a refillable push-down pump bottle – much easier than using a bar of soap

In the bathroom

  • try installing a handrail in your tub or shower to help with your stability
  • you might want to get a raised toilet seat if you find it hard to get up from or lower yourself down to the toilet

6 ways to make doing chores with arthritis easier

“There are lots of products out there to help make daily tasks less stressful for your joints,” says Dr. Ann. “Get more tips and ideas from other people with arthritis in online support groups from reputable charities.”

  • faster food prep – an electric can opener, a mandolin for slicing and a food processor for blitzing ingredients can all take the hard work out of food preparation
  • easier laundry – try a long-handled grabber to help you reach things that are high up or low down – also useful for getting your laundry in and out of the washing machine
  • better bed change – if you find changing the comforter cover difficult, go for covers with big buttons rather than small poppers
  • safer stairs – if you struggle with stairs, instal a grab rail, an extra stair rail or a stair lift if you have the space
  • comfortable gardening – kneelers and light-weight hoses can make gardening easier
  • effortless mail – attach a basket to the inside of your mailbox if it’s in your door, so that you don’t have to bend down to pick up mail from the doormat

When to see your doctor

While self-care is really important in managing your arthritis, you should always take your medication as prescribed. “Speak to your doctor if you’re worried about how your daily life is being affected by your condition, or if you want support to manage it,” says Dr. Ann.

Find out more about

arthritis, including how to spot the symptoms, prevent and treat it
.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.