Health Care Professionals

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Who Can Help You

Doctors today emphasize whole-body arthritis treatment that includes physical therapy, an exercise program, diet where appropriate, various devices to support and relieve your joints, and training you to move and work in a way that spares your joints.

It’s a team approach to every-thing that affects your arthritis: what you eat, how you move, your medication, and even your emotional state. Here are some of the professionals who may be on your team.

Physical therapist

This therapist has a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in physical therapy and is trained to help relieve your pain without using drugs. Treatment may include exercises to strengthen your muscles or improve your joints range of motion (how far you can move them), endurance exercise, water therapy, hot or cold treatments, ultrasound, and relaxation techniques.

Physical therapists can also teach you how to help yourself; they can assess you, your condition, and your lifestyle and prescribe an individualized exercise program. They can also advise you on body mechanics, such as showing you ways to sit or stand that stress your joint less, and they can help you learn to use crutches and canes if needed.

Occupational therapist

It may not sound like fun to have someone come into your home and show you new ways of doing things may be even suggesting that you move your furniture But after you’ve tried an occupational therapist’s suggestions, you’ll be happy you did. An occupational therapist focuses on ways to make your day-to-day tasks much easier-both at home and at work. This includes new or slightly different ways to get out of bed, rise from a chair, dress, eat, and work so that you feel less pain or can do more than you thought you could manage.

Occupational therapists can particularly help people with rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory diseases learn how and when to use splints and other helpful devices. Their job is to evaluate your home or office, suggest rearranging things for less joint stress, and offer you energy saving ideas.

These may be as simple as storing related items together in your kitchen so that you don’t have to open cabinets and move as many things when you cook.

Podiatrist

This foot specialist can recommend types of footwear that will help relieve pain. Podiatrists can fit you with custom-made orthotics (a device that goes inside your shoes to ease strain or make them fit better) and can prescribe anti-inflammatories.

Nutritionist

It’s not easy to change your diet or plan meals to meet all of your nutritional needs. A nutritionist will advise you on your food choices, help you learn ways to lose weight if needed, or devise a personalized eating plan. Many are registered dietitians, certified by the American Dietetic Association.

Registered nurse

RN s can often answer your day-to-day questions or check with the doctor for you when you have a question or problem between office visits.

In addition to medical specialists, you may want to see one or both of the following.

Exercise instructor

This can include the water aerobics instructor at the Y, a beginner’s exercise teacher, or the friendly weight-training coach at your local health club. Many classes are specially designated for senior citizens or people with arthritis, and they can be very helpful. Because the training of instructors varies greatly, it’s a good idea to first ask what experience the instructor has in working with people with arthritis or joint problems.

And you should, of course, clear any exercise program before you start with your doctor or physical therapist, who can offer advice on when to ease up and how to protect your joints during exercises. He can also tell you which movements or exercises might aggravate your condition rather than help it.

Social worker

Arthritis can change your life, and these changes can be tough to deal with. This disease can be difficult both financially and emotionally, and social workers can give you real support. They can help you get job counseling or training, find out what benefits you are eligible for, and may be able to help you cope with the emotional pressures as well. “Dealing with Depression,” for information on locating a social worker or therapist.

How Does This Disease Start

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Your hip aches every time you settle into your favorite armchair. Your spouse’s knee is beginning to twinge on every trip up and down the stairs. Your uncle’s fingers are so swollen and painful he has given up whittling. And your mother’s neck and shoulders ache so painfully she couldn’t dance at your son’s graduation.

All these conditions are arthritis. But they’re different types of arthritis. And not only does each type need a specific treatment, but also, because no two people are alike, what works well for you may not work well for your neighbor or friend with the same ailment.

One person may need a change of diet or a change in work habits. Another may simply need to rest more often and take aspirin occasionally. A third may need antibiotics right away or strong drugs to prevent becoming disabled later in life. Still others may need completely different types of treatment.

That’s why you need to know the type of arthritis you have, know your treatment options, and know yourself. With the help of your doctor and other health care practitioners, you can find a treatment plan that fits you, your life, and your condition.

You should be in charge of your health not the other way around.