7 Tips for Living Better with Psoriatic Arthritis
As you’re likely well aware, living with psoriatic arthritis is often challenging. Joint inflammation is painful and transforms seemingly simple, everyday tasks—like opening a jar or stepping into the shower—into hurdles. Not to mention, fatigue makes getting through a to-do list or activities that much harder.
“Psoriatic arthritis can interfere with activities of daily living,” says Harry Fischer, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist at Northwell Health Physician Partners in New York City. That can be cooking, cleaning, and “anything that you need your joints for,” he adds.
In addition to treatments prescribed by your doctor, there are plenty of day-to-day habits and tactics that can help ease symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.
Faced with fatigue, pain, and discomfort, it’s tempting to stay still. But being sedentary should be avoided if you have psoriatic arthritis, Fischer says. In fact, it’ll actually help to move.
By making exercise part of your routine, you’ll strengthen your muscles, which adds support to the joints, allowing them to move better, says board-certified rheumatologist Siddharth Tambar, M.D., of Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine.
The right exercise depends on your situation, but low-impact options are generally a good starting point, Tambar says. “In general, as long as an exercise or activity does not increase your pain, you are safe to proceed,” he says. Consult your doctor. If you feel comfortable, you can increase the impact, in most cases.
Try these go-to low-impact activities that can help with psoriatic arthritis:
- Swimming: “People with access to a pool benefit from aqua aerobics because unloading from the buoyancy helps with movement and pain,” says Sridhar Yalamanchili, a physical therapist with Atlantic Spine Center, in New Jersey. Moving in the water removes the impact of gravity. You can swim laps or simply walk in the water for low-impact aerobic activity.
- Yoga or Pilates: Both help maintain joint mobility, Yalamanchili says. Just be mindful of your affected joints, Fischer adds. If you have inflammation of the wrists, for instance, you may want to avoid poses that require you to rest your weight on them, he says.
- Barre: Another low-impact style, barre workouts tend to be made up of ballet, yoga, Pilates, and dance-based aerobics moves. Carrie Dykes, a writer and consultant in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, who lives with psoriatic arthritis, says barre classes have helped her increase flexibility and decrease stiffness. “I feel very fluid afterward, like my joints are lubricated,” she says.
Consider other low-impact activities, too, like riding a bike, practicing tai chi, and even simply going for a walk. “Rather than avoiding moving on the painful days, think of movement as lubrication for the joints and go for a walk,” Yalamanchili says.
These types of activities keep endurance up, which helps combat fatigue, says Nina DePaola, a physical therapist and vice president of post-acute services at Northwell Health in Garden City, New York.
Try Heat or Ice
For stiff joints, heat can help ease aches and soreness, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Try a moist heat pack that can be heated up in your microwave, recommends Yalamanchili.
Cold can be helpful, too. For warm and swollen joints, DePaola recommends applying an ice pack that goes all the way around the joint—and you don’t need to purchase a pricey product. “Use a large bag of frozen peas because they can kind of circle the joint better than a flat ice pack,” she says.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
No diet can end psoriatic arthritis symptoms, but some foods are considered to be anti-inflammatory, such as olive oil, tree nuts, fatty fish, and green leafy vegetables, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Eating nuts, for instance, has been associated with reduced signs of inflammation, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as well as advice from the Arthritis Foundation.
These are foods that are at the center of the Mediterranean diet, which Jonathan Purtell, a registered dietitian at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, recommends for people living with psoriatic arthritis.
Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet helps reduce inflammation, Purtell says. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, are loaded with micronutrients and antioxidants, which may help to reduce inflammation, while olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammation markers (signs of inflammation found through blood tests).
Pinpoint and Avoid Food Triggers
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to see whether dietary changes could help improve your symptoms. Some people find that an elimination diet helps them discover foods that are triggering flare-ups. Then, following a dietary plan that minimizes those inflammatory foods can be helpful in managing symptoms, Tambar says.
That was Carrie’s approach. Soon after her diagnosis, she tried the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, which eliminates many foods, including dairy, nuts, and legumes, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
“It was too hard to sustain, but I have taken away a few bits that I have worked into everyday life,” Carrie says. “Everyone has different flare triggers, and for me, dairy was a huge one.” She’s since cut down on that food group and says doing so helped reduce the number of flare-ups she’s experienced.
Adapt Your Surroundings
Movements that are second nature for some—stepping up into the shower, shaking a bottle, folding the laundry, or lifting a cast-iron pan onto the range—can be challenging, even painful, for people with psoriatic arthritis.
Choosing the right tool and modifying your surroundings can help, DePaola says. For instance, a raised toilet seat means lowering your body less when you have to go. Putting your bed on risers could make it less effort to lie down and get up. Similarly, adding grip bars or a shower seat may make it easier to navigate the bathtub. You may even decide to invest in a walk-in shower instead of a tub.
Certain gadgets can help reduce how much you have to use your hands. Try an electric bottle opener and an electric can opener to prevent wrist pain. Go easy on your joints when cooking by using a mezzaluna knife with a curved blade or a chopper gadget. Swapping out heavy cast-iron pans for a more lightweight option with two handles (not just one) will mean less heavy lifting and better weight distribution for two-hand carrying.
It can be helpful to go room by room through your home, looking for ways to make small (or large) tweaks that’ll help cater to your joints. You may also consider working with a physical or occupational therapist to determine which adaptive devices may be best for helping you based on your symptoms and needs.
Living with a chronic illness isn’t easy, says Tambar. But try to “keep your spirits up and stay positive,” he says, noting that “maintaining your mental health is essential to improve your quality of life.”
Keep in mind that stress “sets off the immune system’s inflammatory response,” according to the Arthritis Foundation—that’s the last thing you want when you have a condition linked to inflammation. Although stress is an inevitable part of life, managing stress levels is important for everyone, and especially people with psoriatic arthritis.
Mindfulness meditation and exercise can help ease stress. Hobbies, spending time with friends and family, and getting plenty of rest are other popular stress reducers.
Try Different Things
Remember: What works for one person—avoiding dairy, say, or taking vitamin D supplements—may not work as well or be recommended for others. “All of these approaches and strategies need to be individualized,” Fischer says.
Run any ideas past your doctor before you try them. It’s important to discuss what you’re comfortable with, and identifying which joints are affected (and how severely) is also key to deciding how best to manage your condition, he says.
None of these strategies should be used in place of medical treatment, but if your doctor is on board, it may be worth trying some new things to see whether they can help improve your everyday life with psoriatic arthritis.
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