10 Strategies to Improve Your Activity Tolerance
How well do you tolerate doing activities now that you are feeling arthritis pain? Probably not so well. Depending on which joint is affected, you may not be able to walk as far, do as much or keep going as long. Overall, arthritis pain might be slowing you down. But life doesn’t have to be so inactive. If you use certain strategies, you can improve your activity tolerance.
- Start gradually: Sometimes, improving your activity tolerance is a matter of gradually working your way up to your desired activity goal. For example, you might have a goal of being able to walk two miles. In order to comfortably accomplish that goal, you might start by walking a block per day and increasing the distance gradually from there. That’s how marathon runners get used to running long distances. That’s how you can gradually improve your ability to do more too.
- Exercise: Jack LaLanne once said, “Life is an Olympic event that you need to train for.” If you desire to work in the garden, you might want to pick up some light three pound weights before picking up a rake or a shovel. By increasing your muscle strength and endurance, you will find that activities gradually become easier to do. You just need to train for it.
- Wear better shoes: So much of arthritis pain comes from the feet, the ankles, the knees, the hips and the spine. All of these body parts really do suffer when poorly cushioned or poorly supportive shoes are worn. A good pair of shoes will reduce the stress and load on many of your arthritic parts.
- Premedicate: Before going shopping or cleaning the house, consider taking a medication beforehand. This preemptive strike will keep you comfortable for the duration of your activity and keep the pain from getting out of control. Anti-inflammatory or opioid drugs are great medications to use prior to activities so you can tolerate your activity.
- Use an assistive device: Some devices provide assistance while you do things like walking, hiking, shopping or socializing. Canes, walkers, trekking poles and walking sticks are all examples of items that can help ease the pain from arthritis. Stubbornly choosing not to use such items can cheat you out of a better quality of life.
- Pace yourself: When you are doing something, the older methods of rushing through it, getting it all done at once, and not stopping until you’re finished just won’t work now that you have arthritis pain. Taking things at a slower, sustainable pace is the way this race is won.
- Support: If you have back pain, use lumbar support. If you have ankle pain, try high-top shoes or lace-up support. If you have thumb arthritis, try a thumb Spica splint for support. If you are not sure which support is right for you, talk with your local orthopedist.
- Use alternative treatments: Alternatives to medications include heat, ice, topical lotions, TENS units, acupuncture, herbal teas, meditation and a Mediterranean Diet. Any one of these treatments for pain might improve your ability to do more. You never know until you try one.
- Find alternative methods and activities: Trying to do things the way you used to do them is difficult as you develop arthritis. Finding alternative ways to do the things you enjoy can keep you as active as possible. For example, tennis players have a hard time tolerating this sport when knee arthritis becomes a problem. In this situation, switching from playing singles tennis to doubles tennis might be the way to continue enjoying the sport without experiencing so much pain. Or one can find a substitute activity altogether, like Frisbee golf, which is easier on the knees but is still outdoors and fun.
- Relax and recover: Remember, after all those activities are finished, you need to relax and recover. The body needs time to heal and renew. If you are not allowing enough time to relax and recover, you won’t be able to tolerate what you want to do when it comes time to do your activities again.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.