5 common mistakes to avoid with arthritis

Are you struggling with joint pain, stiffness, or swelling? Is the disability that comes with arthritis taking its toll? Has your quality of life and mental health dipped as is so common for people with joint disease?

An estimated one-third of people between the ages of 18 and 64 have arthritis. Once you reach 65 years and beyond that number jumps to just under 50%. And if you are female, you face an increased risk.

Once diagnosed, the usual recommended path consists of medications, physiotherapy and possible surgery. While these can provide much-needed relief, medications and surgery come with hefty potential side effects. As stated on the NHS website these include heartburn, stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, headaches, tiredness; even heart failure, stroke and death.

The ‘to-do’s’ with arthritis are often spoken about; take supplements, keep track of your weight,  change your life to meet any limitations. Yet little is shared about the ‘do nots’, which can be just as important.

By avoiding the things that research reveals trigger pain and worsen joint inflammation, it’s possible to reduce reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and make day-to-day life more enjoyable…

But many people don’t know what these mistakes are. So there’s a good chance you’re unknowingly making several. Tweak your lifestyle to steer clear of these aggravators and you might find unexpected respite.

What are they?

Let’s take a look…

5 mistakes to avoid with arthritis

Most forms of arthritis are chronic; remaining present for years, even a lifetime. While the pain can wax and wane, it’s often stubbornly constant. Yet there are mistakes that trigger flare-ups and contribute to a poor quality of life, increased disability and elevated levels of discomfort. They are best avoided.

1) An inactive lifestyle

When your joints hurt the last thing that springs to mind is physical activity. The very idea of exercise might send a shudder up your tender spine. While in the midst of a flare up it’s important to find solace in whatever way you can. But in the longer term, remaining active is crucial.

See, our joints are lined by cartilage. Cartilage is like a rubber spacer that cushions and separates the bones, while acting to absorb shock. Within this cartilage live cells called chondrocytes. These chondrocytes produce and lay down the cartilage matrix; they create the “rubber” lining. It’s this lining that is attacked or damaged by arthritis and it’s one reason that disability and discomfort result.

It’s essential, then, that we keep our chondrocytes healthy and able to repair damaged cartilage. These teeny cells require movement to be productive; they need mechanical pressure to shore up the cartilage layer. Research shows that without movement, cartilage thins.

Exercise has further benefits too. Bones within the joints and the muscles and tendons that surround them gain strength from physical activity. This provides stability, safeguards range of motion, improves the ability to function, and calms pain.

There are also other advantages…

Excess weight can exacerbate arthritis in two ways; it adds physical load to sore joints and obesity is considered a state of low-grade inflammation. Low-level constant inflammation can contribute to pain. As exercise facilitates weight loss, it can tackle arthritis in a dual manner; reduced pressure and diminished inflammation.

(If you’d like to learn more about inflammation, we cover this in our article, What is a Low Inflammation Diet?)

Depression is understandably more common in those with chronic pain; it’s hard living with ongoing discomfort and disability. Yet this creates a vicious cycle as melancholy is known to worsen pain. Regular exercise, though, has been shown to ease the symptoms of mental illness. This in turn can reduce physical pain.

Exercise is an essential therapeutic approach that soothes arthritic pain in a number of ways. Saying that, it is important to ensure you choose the right kind of physical activity…

2) Engaging in high impact movement

If you’re a runner, high-intensity dancer, power lifter or love tennis, racquetball or squash, it might be time to swap (or take steps to adapt) your preferred form of physical activity.

A study published in the Journal of Anatomy noted, “The sports with major risk [for the development of arthritis] are those that involve repetitive, high intensity, high impact forces through the affected joints, especially where there is a high associated risk of injury.” And what can cause arthritis can also make already-affected joints worse.

Instead, choose low-to-moderate impact exercise. Walk, swim, row. Cycle, practice Tai Chi, Pilates or attend water aerobics classes.

As an added benefit, people with both pain and depression find lower intensity exercise more enjoyable. And what is enjoyable is easier to maintain. Begin at a low-to-moderate intensity for 20 minutes per day, three times per week. Build up gently over time as your muscles and joints gain strength.

3) Not managing stress

In our modern world, busyness and stress are all but expected. They’re perceived to equal success, so stepping off life’s accelerator can be a difficult thing to do. Yet to manage arthritis and the pain it can cause, you must.

Psychological stress can trigger the inflammatory response. We know that this can contribute to mental illness and increase pain. It can also cause physical changes in your joints.

How can you calm stress?

Research on patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that relaxation training “reduced pain behaviour, disease activity, and anxiety.” The practice made a significant difference both psychologically and physically. Amazing!

A technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to improve joint function, ease depression, reduce anxiety and lower disability. This well-researched technique helps you to recognise unhelpful thoughts, question their validity, and replace negative patterns with accurate and helpful thinking and strategies. A professional CBT expert can walk you through the process. It can be truly life — and pain — changing.

Another powerful technique is daily meditation. Even just 10 minutes a day calming your mind can have a significant effect on lowering stress and helping to relax tension in your body

Again, when we think about ways to calm stress, exercise raises its hand. Can you see how this one strategy has multiple benefits for easing arthritis?

4) Eating inflammation-causing foods

As the saying goes, we are what we eat. When you eat well, you consume the nutrients required for optimal function and healing. When you eat poorly, you ingest compounds that increase inflammation and pain.
These three ingredients are best avoided…

Refined sugar

Sugar is hidden in so many foods under a variety of different ingredient names and we Brits, often consume far more than we should. Other than contributing to weight gain which stresses our joints, excess sugar has other impacts; those that are not so sweet.

Research has shown that dietary sugar can negatively affect joints and cartilage and that sugary beverages increase inflammation which, as we’ve talked about, can cause pain.

Wheat and gluten

The potential benefits of following a wheat and gluten-free diet hit the media some years back now.

People have reported widespread improvements; respite from bloating to better energy, tummy pain relief to calming an irritable bowel.

But what could a wheat and gluten-free diet possibly do for joint pain?

Gluten promotes inflammation in the body and some people are more sensitive than others. It was once thought that only diagnosed Coeliacs were affected by gluten. However, most health and nutrition experts now recognise non-coeliac gluten sensitivity as a real threat to long term health.

Some experts believe gluten is an underlying cause of 'Leaky gut syndrome'. A condition where the tight junctions in the gut wall become permeable and undigested particles pass from your gut into your bloodstream. Zonulin is the protein in your gut which regulates how tight those junctions are and gluten has been shown to activate the production of zonulin.

The problem is, wheat is such a staple part of our western diet that most people have never experienced how their body feels without it and we often this becomes our normal. Trialling a wheat and gluten-free diet is a great way to assess the affects gluten may be having on your health.

Trans fat

When you shop it’s good practice to read the ingredients panel of the packaged foods you buy. When you see partially hydrogenated oils or fats or ‘shortening’ listed, you are holding a food that contains trans fat. Common sources include bakery products like cakes, doughnuts and bread, margarines, vegetable oils, and ice cream.

Trans fat is linked to inflammation, which is why it increases the risk of heart disease and death. As far as arthritis and pain goes, this increase in inflammation may exacerbate symptoms. As it is certainly not a required nutrient, avoiding trans fat is a practical option.

5) Not getting enough sleep

When we don’t sleep well, the toll it takes is exhausting, both physically and psychologically.

A 2016 study found those who had knee osteoarthritis and suffered with insomnia also had an elevated chemical that promotes more inflammation. As well as pro-pain inflammation, research has revealed that pain causes sleep problems and sleep problems can increase pain.

Focusing on getting enough quality sleep can make a big difference in how you feel.

Most adults require 8 hours sleep per night to function optimally while some can get by with only 7 hours. To read more about why sleep is so important visit our article here.

The Take Aways

If you experience arthritis, you are not alone. While it might seem like you don’t have options, you do. By avoiding these five mistakes, many people find respite…
Remain sensibly active with low-to-moderate impact activity. Manage your stress and find joy in your every day.

Follow a clean diet. Prioritise sound sleep. And, as you’ve learnt through this article, it’s important to focus on reducing inflammation.

It is possible to reduce your joint pain; it just takes the right steps.

Are you struggling with joint pain, stiffness, or swelling? Is the disability that comes with arthritis taking its toll? Has your quality of life and mental health dipped as is so common for people with joint disease?

An estimated one-third of people between the ages of 18 and 64 have arthritis. Once you reach 65 years and beyond that number jumps to just under 50%. And if you are female, you face an increased risk.

Once diagnosed, the usual recommended path consists of medications, physiotherapy and possible surgery. While these can provide much-needed relief, medications and surgery come with hefty potential side effects. As stated on the NHS website these include heartburn, stomach ulcers, internal bleeding, headaches, tiredness; even heart failure, stroke and death.

The ‘to-do’s’ with arthritis are often spoken about; take supplements, keep track of your weight,  change your life to meet any limitations. Yet little is shared about the ‘do nots’, which can be just as important.

By avoiding the things that research reveals trigger pain and worsen joint inflammation, it’s possible to reduce reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and make day-to-day life more enjoyable…

But many people don’t know what these mistakes are. So there’s a good chance you’re unknowingly making several. Tweak your lifestyle to steer clear of these aggravators and you might find unexpected respite.

What are they?

Let’s take a look…

5 mistakes to avoid with arthritis

Most forms of arthritis are chronic; remaining present for years, even a lifetime. While the pain can wax and wane, it’s often stubbornly constant. Yet there are mistakes that trigger flare-ups and contribute to a poor quality of life, increased disability and elevated levels of discomfort. They are best avoided.

1) An inactive lifestyle

When your joints hurt the last thing that springs to mind is physical activity. The very idea of exercise might send a shudder up your tender spine. While in the midst of a flare up it’s important to find solace in whatever way you can. But in the longer term, remaining active is crucial.

See, our joints are lined by cartilage. Cartilage is like a rubber spacer that cushions and separates the bones, while acting to absorb shock. Within this cartilage live cells called chondrocytes. These chondrocytes produce and lay down the cartilage matrix; they create the “rubber” lining. It’s this lining that is attacked or damaged by arthritis and it’s one reason that disability and discomfort result.

It’s essential, then, that we keep our chondrocytes healthy and able to repair damaged cartilage. These teeny cells require movement to be productive; they need mechanical pressure to shore up the cartilage layer. Research shows that without movement, cartilage thins.

Exercise has further benefits too. Bones within the joints and the muscles and tendons that surround them gain strength from physical activity. This provides stability, safeguards range of motion, improves the ability to function, and calms pain.

There are also other advantages…

Excess weight can exacerbate arthritis in two ways; it adds physical load to sore joints and obesity is considered a state of low-grade inflammation. Low-level constant inflammation can contribute to pain. As exercise facilitates weight loss, it can tackle arthritis in a dual manner; reduced pressure and diminished inflammation.

(If you’d like to learn more about inflammation, we cover this in our article, What is a Low Inflammation Diet?)

Depression is understandably more common in those with chronic pain; it’s hard living with ongoing discomfort and disability. Yet this creates a vicious cycle as melancholy is known to worsen pain. Regular exercise, though, has been shown to ease the symptoms of mental illness. This in turn can reduce physical pain.

Exercise is an essential therapeutic approach that soothes arthritic pain in a number of ways. Saying that, it is important to ensure you choose the right kind of physical activity…

2) Engaging in high impact movement

If you’re a runner, high-intensity dancer, power lifter or love tennis, racquetball or squash, it might be time to swap (or take steps to adapt) your preferred form of physical activity.

A study published in the Journal of Anatomy noted, “The sports with major risk [for the development of arthritis] are those that involve repetitive, high intensity, high impact forces through the affected joints, especially where there is a high associated risk of injury.” And what can cause arthritis can also make already-affected joints worse.

Instead, choose low-to-moderate impact exercise. Walk, swim, row. Cycle, practice Tai Chi, Pilates or attend water aerobics classes.

As an added benefit, people with both pain and depression find lower intensity exercise more enjoyable. And what is enjoyable is easier to maintain. Begin at a low-to-moderate intensity for 20 minutes per day, three times per week. Build up gently over time as your muscles and joints gain strength.

3) Not managing stress

In our modern world, busyness and stress are all but expected. They’re perceived to equal success, so stepping off life’s accelerator can be a difficult thing to do. Yet to manage arthritis and the pain it can cause, you must.

Psychological stress can trigger the inflammatory response. We know that this can contribute to mental illness and increase pain. It can also cause physical changes in your joints.

How can you calm stress?

Research on patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that relaxation training “reduced pain behaviour, disease activity, and anxiety.” The practice made a significant difference both psychologically and physically. Amazing!

A technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to improve joint function, ease depression, reduce anxiety and lower disability. This well-researched technique helps you to recognise unhelpful thoughts, question their validity, and replace negative patterns with accurate and helpful thinking and strategies. A professional CBT expert can walk you through the process. It can be truly life — and pain — changing.

Another powerful technique is daily meditation. Even just 10 minutes a day calming your mind can have a significant effect on lowering stress and helping to relax tension in your body

Again, when we think about ways to calm stress, exercise raises its hand. Can you see how this one strategy has multiple benefits for easing arthritis?

4) Eating inflammation-causing foods

As the saying goes, we are what we eat. When you eat well, you consume the nutrients required for optimal function and healing. When you eat poorly, you ingest compounds that increase inflammation and pain.
These three ingredients are best avoided…

Refined sugar

Sugar is hidden in so many foods under a variety of different ingredient names and we Brits, often consume far more than we should. Other than contributing to weight gain which stresses our joints, excess sugar has other impacts; those that are not so sweet.

Research has shown that dietary sugar can negatively affect joints and cartilage and that sugary beverages increase inflammation which, as we’ve talked about, can cause pain.

Wheat and gluten

The potential benefits of following a wheat and gluten-free diet hit the media some years back now.

People have reported widespread improvements; respite from bloating to better energy, tummy pain relief to calming an irritable bowel.

But what could a wheat and gluten-free diet possibly do for joint pain?

Gluten promotes inflammation in the body and some people are more sensitive than others. It was once thought that only diagnosed Coeliacs were affected by gluten. However, most health and nutrition experts now recognise non-coeliac gluten sensitivity as a real threat to long term health.

Some experts believe gluten is an underlying cause of ‘Leaky gut syndrome’. A condition where the tight junctions in the gut wall become permeable and undigested particles pass from your gut into your bloodstream. Zonulin is the protein in your gut which regulates how tight those junctions are and gluten has been shown to activate the production of zonulin.

The problem is, wheat is such a staple part of our western diet that most people have never experienced how their body feels without it and we often this becomes our normal. Trialling a wheat and gluten-free diet is a great way to assess the affects gluten may be having on your health.

Trans fat

When you shop it’s good practice to read the ingredients panel of the packaged foods you buy. When you see partially hydrogenated oils or fats or ‘shortening’ listed, you are holding a food that contains trans fat. Common sources include bakery products like cakes, doughnuts and bread, margarines, vegetable oils, and ice cream.

Trans fat is linked to inflammation, which is why it increases the risk of heart disease and death. As far as arthritis and pain goes, this increase in inflammation may exacerbate symptoms. As it is certainly not a required nutrient, avoiding trans fat is a practical option.

5) Not getting enough sleep

When we don’t sleep well, the toll it takes is exhausting, both physically and psychologically.

A 2016 study found those who had knee osteoarthritis and suffered with insomnia also had an elevated chemical that promotes more inflammation. As well as pro-pain inflammation, research has revealed that pain causes sleep problems and sleep problems can increase pain.

Focusing on getting enough quality sleep can make a big difference in how you feel.

Most adults require 8 hours sleep per night to function optimally while some can get by with only 7 hours. To read more about why sleep is so important visit our article here.

The Take Aways

If you experience arthritis, you are not alone. While it might seem like you don’t have options, you do. By avoiding these five mistakes, many people find respite…
Remain sensibly active with low-to-moderate impact activity. Manage your stress and find joy in your every day.

Follow a clean diet. Prioritise sound sleep. And, as you’ve learnt through this article, it’s important to focus on reducing inflammation.

It is possible to reduce your joint pain; it just takes the right steps.