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Caregiver Week: Caring for Someone with Aching Joints

Millions of Americans suffer from joint pain and often let that pain prevent them from participating in everyday tasks. Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain, and the two primary forms it comes in are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the inner lining of the joints, causing pain. Osteoarthritis involves the wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of the bones over time and is often associated with aging. Each type of arthritis requires different treatment methods.

For patients with joint pain, day-to-day tasks can become more difficult or painful to do. Fortunately, there are many tools and devices that can help decrease the stress on joints, such as:

  • Lumbar support – using a lumbar support can help relieve back pain in those that sit for long periods of time. A rolled towel placed between the lower back and the chair back can help support the back and relieve discomfort.
  • Electric jar opener – helps keep stress off of hand joints.
  • Toilet seat riser – helps individuals with knee and hip pain.
  • Long-handled sponges – makes bathing simpler.
  • Sock aides, zipper pulls, long-handled shoe horns, large buttons or Velcro instead of small buttons – all simple solutions that make dressing easier.
  • Canes and walkers – take pressure off of knees, hips or ankles.

Caregivers can play an important role in helping manage joint pain for a patient with arthritis by encouraging the patient to move. Consistent physical activity can help reduce joint pain, but sometimes arthritis patients need encouragement or help practicing it. Many times, when the person is hurting they don’t want to move when movement is exactly what they need. Avoiding motion and activity may decrease their pain momentarily, but it increases the stiffness of the joint and further limits motion over time. Movement actually increases movement and low-impact exercises actually strengthen the joints while reducing pain. First, they may need to loosen up or relieve some discomfort in the joint. Caregivers can help patients by applying ice or heat to the area, depending on the type of ache they are feeling. If the joint is swollen and warm to the touch, an ice pack can help reduce the inflammation. If the joint is neither but still achy, applying heat to the area can help loosen up the muscle and get the blood flowing.

Then, the patient can start incorporating short periods of activity throughout the day to improve muscle strength. Patients are encouraged to start slowly and to stop when it starts to get uncomfortable, before it becomes painful. A few ideas for in-home exercises that caregivers can help with include:

  • Short walks across the room – even if it’s for as short as 30 seconds a few times a day.
  • Hand exercises – practice stretching and flexing the fingers.
  • Ankle pumps – sit in a chair and alternate flexing your foot up toward you and down away from your body.
  • Knee extension – sit in a chair and extend one leg in front of you, parallel to the floor, until your knee is straight, with toes pointed toward your head. Lower your leg back to the ground.

Before beginning a regular exercise routine, it is always important to be assessed by a medical professional to ensure that the exercises are appropriate and to avoid injury. The exceptional team of physical therapists and related health care providers at Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers is dedicated to educating individuals in the community about the importance of exercising while helping to prevent joint pain and injury.

Spokesperson Background:

Cynthia Russell, PT, is a physical therapist at Cone Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Reidsville. Cindy received her Bachelor of Science in psychology from Kansas State University and her Bachelor of Science in physical therapy at Kansas Medical School.