Managing your symptoms

Eat a good diet

Although diets and supplements won't cure your arthritis, eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet is good for your overall health and well-being.

Your body needs energy and nutrients from food to keep you going throughout the day, as well as to help your bones and muscles stay strong and develop

Eating should be pleasurable and can be an important way of spending time with friends and family.

Basing a healthy diet around whole (rather than processed) foods, which are low in fat, sugar and salt, would be good.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is a smart move as well – you've probably heard of the ‘five-a-day’ recommendation. Eating fruits and vegetables can help prevent heart disease and strokes and possibly reduce the chance of some types of cancer.

Read more about diet.

Eat fibre

Foods with fibre are also good for you. As well as having a beneficial effect in preventing heart disease, people with diabetes tend to find increasing the fibre in their diet can help improve their blood sugar control.

Foods high in fibre include:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • oatmeal and some cereals
  • wholemeal bread and wholewheat pasta.

It's recommended that people consume at least 20–35 g of fibre each day. You can check the amount of fibre in many foods by reading the product label.

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important as this helps carry nutrients around your body and get rid of waste. Having tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet is fine, but it's important that caffeinated drinks aren't your only source of water.

Exercise

Regular, careful and safe exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your condition and improve your health.

There’s no evidence to suggest that exercise makes your arthritis worse. In fact, we know that gentle exercise can help with inflammation.

Why do I need to exercise?

Your body is supposed to move and it needs exercise. If you don’t exercise regularly and keep your joints moving, they'll become stiff and painful.

Exercise is great because it:

  • improves your self confidence and mood
  • increases your energy levels
  • improves your sleep patterns
  • produces endorphins, which help to reduce pain, stiffness and anxiety
  • increases fitness, strength and flexibility
  • can reduce the risk of complications caused by your arthritis, such as muscle weakness and stiffness
  • helps speed up your recovery from flare-ups.

Exercise can also help you to keep to a healthy weight. Being overweight can make your symptoms worse, put extra strain on your joints and make treatments less effective. A healthy weight can help you manage your condition and improve your self-confidence.

The more you get into an exercise routine, the more natural it'll be, and the more you'll enjoy it. Aim for at least one hour of moderate exercise a day. Try to include exercise in your daily life, for example by cycling to school or to see friends, instead of getting a lift.

Get a good night's sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for your physical and emotional well-being.

If you have arthritis, symptoms such as pain may disrupt your sleep.

Poor or disturbed sleep night after night may make you feel more achy, tired and in a low mood. It can cause increased muscle tension and can be linked with muscle pain.

Healthcare professionals will usually suggest you think about ‘sleep hygiene’ – things that you can do to improve your sleep pattern.

Read more about sleep.

How can I improve my sleep pattern?

Get into a relaxing and familiar routine – try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Ideally, go to bed when you’re sleepy.

Be active throughout the day so you're tired when you go to bed. Exercise regularly, but not within three hours of going to bed.

Eat sensibly so you don’t feel hungry during the night, but avoid eating and drinking large amounts just before bedtime.

Improve your bedroom

A tidy bedroom and clean, fresh-smelling sheets will make you feel more relaxed. Making your bed can be hard at times, but a made bed with no wrinkles will help add to the relaxed environment.

Your bed shouldn't be too hard or too soft. Use a suitable number of pillows – your neck and back should be in a straight line when you're lying on your side.

The darker the room, the better chance you have of getting to sleep, so it would help if you have thick, dark curtains.

Scented cushions or candles can also make your room smell nice.

Keep warm

Use a hot-water bottle or microwave wheat bags to warm your sheets. A warm bath before you go to bed can help ease stiff or painful joints.

Relax

Do any chores early in the evening if you can, so you have time to relax before going to bed. Pack your bag and get anything you'll need ready for the next day. A to-do list for the next day can be helpful.

Share any worries with someone you can trust and write them down. Don’t bottle them up. You might like to try some relaxation techniques, such as meditation.

If you do have nights when you can't get much sleep, don't be critical of yourself.

Manage your fatigue

It's important to get the right balance between work, socialising and resting; and having arthritis can make this challenging.

It's also important to find time to exercise regularly. Staying fit and healthy and keeping your joints moving is a big part of managing your condition. Exercise will help you feel more energetic and sleep better.

The key is to listen to your body – know your limitations and rest when you need to. Overdoing it can cause discomfort or pain the following day.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of extreme physical or mental tiredness, or both. Common features of fatigue include:

  • your body and limbs feeling heavy and difficult to move
  • flu-like feelings of exhaustion
  • feeling that your energy has drained away.

If you have arthritis or a related condition, you may experience fatigue, especially during a flare-up. It shouldn't last and there are ways of managing fatigue.

Most of the time you'll have more or less the same amount of energy as your friends.

If you're feeling these symptoms, talk with a rheumatology nurse or consultant. 

It's important not to confuse lack of stamina, due to deconditioning (not being physically fit), with fatigue. If you're unfit you'll feel tired after exercise. With a gradual training programme your fitness, stamina and fatigue will improve.

Read more about fatigue.

Manage your pain

Pain is something you'll unfortunately know more about than most of your friends.

It's very personal and individual. The way your brain interprets pain and how you react to it depends on many factors, including:

  • how you're feeling, for example if you're worried or scared
  • previous experiences of pain
  • other people's reactions
  • how well you sleep.

Many people often find it difficult to explain exactly how they're feeling when they're in pain. There are things you can do to help you better explain how you're feeling. If you’d like to know more about this, talk to your rheumatology department.

Pain doesn’t have to dictate how you live. Even if you experience a significant amount of pain, you can lead a fulfilling life. There are steps you can take to reduce the impact of pain and to make yourself feel better.

How can I fight pain?

Keeping up with your medication routine is very important but if you're still experiencing pain, you can ask your doctor for extra or alternative forms of pain relief. 

It's really important to try to gain a sense of control and to not let pain rule your life. The tips below might be helpful.

Read the tips below, or find out more about managing your pain.

Keep doing things you enjoy

Even if you’re in pain, it’s important to try to keep doing the things you enjoy and need to do as much as possible. This might seem tough at times, but it will help.

Doing the things you enjoy, such as seeing friends, can help prevent you feeling sad and can distract you, which can prevent you focusing on pain as much.

Be as independent as you possibly can at all times. Ask your occupational therapist about handy gadgets.