Arthritis Self-Help: What Are My Choices?

by Wendy McBrair, MS, BSN, CHES

Arthritis Self-Help: What Are My Choices?

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, people with health problems began to take a greater interest in learning what they could do to care for themselves. A leader in this self-help movement was Alcoholics Anonymous, which gave people with alcohol problems an opportunity to come together to help and support one another. People with chronic conditions soon saw that self-help could work for them, too. If you were faced with a chronic condition that had no cure, it made sense to learn to care for yourself as well as possible, to complement the care received from doctors.

The demand for self-help continues to grow. Because of better diagnosis, better medical care, and better medicines, it is now more common for people with one or more chronic conditions to live many years after their diagnosis. Huge numbers of baby boomers are beginning to enter their sixties — when many people develop chronic health problems. This means that more and more people are in search of resources they can use to reduce the impact that chronic health problems can have on quality of life.

Fortunately, the arthritis self-help movement is alive and growing. Some people who receive a diagnosis of arthritis follow the “ostrich” routine. That is, they put their heads in the sand and pretend arthritis is not really going to affect them. But most are eager to seek out new skills and useful suggestions that will help them manage their arthritis. When they do, the research shows, they tend to feel better, enjoying improved joint health and a higher quality of life. To help you achieve similar results, this article will focus on six types of resources for arthritis self-help so you can choose the ones that will help you the most. The six types are educational literature, health fairs, community presentations, support groups, self-management courses, and exercise programs.

Educational literature

The quest for self-help usually begins with a search for information that you can understand (and that explains any medical terms it uses). This information can be found in pamphlets, on the Internet, and in books. However, you are not meant to use the information you come up with to treat yourself. Rather, the goal is to give you the information you need to work better with your health-care team. Armed with information, you can ask better questions, understand a proposed treatment plan, or identify symptoms, side effects, and problems. If there are suggestions for care in the information you find, it’s wise to share them with a health professional before acting on them. You may need additional guidance. Or you may find out that the suggestions are not right for you. In some instances, general information can be a little scary, and you may need a health professional to put it in context for you.

Look for information from reputable sources. There is a lot of misleading information out there, especially on the Internet. Look for books or pamphlets put out by and Web sites run by leading organizations, such as the Arthritis Foundation or WebMD. Resources from medical centers or universities such as the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Mayo Clinic, or the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center are also reliable. Organizations that address your specific health problems, such as The Lupus Foundation of America or The National Fibromyalgia Association, are good sources as well. You may be able to ask your doctor to recommend good books or Web sites.

Also, keep in mind that everyone’s arthritis is different. The information you find may mention lots of symptoms or name lots of different medicines. That does not mean that you will get all the symptoms, develop all the problems listed, or need to take all the medicines suggested. Even a new medicine written about in a reputable journal or newspaper may not be right for you or your particular health problem. In some cases, it may still need to be tested over time to see if it is effective and safe.

Health fairs

You can also find health information at community events called health fairs. At a health fair, various health professionals and organizations provide information on health problems and related resources. Volunteers sit at tables to give out literature, demonstrate equipment, or explain how their profession or organization can help you. You may have a chance to ask a question or briefly discuss a health issue with a health professional. You don’t usually have to pay to attend a health fair.

Some health fairs offer actual health screenings. You may be able to get your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels measured and your vision and hearing tested. Occasionally, a speaker also presents information on a specific topic. Drawings for gifts, games, and food often play a part in these fun, one-day events.

Last Reviewed on May 2, 2012

Wendy McBrair spent 30 years as a health-care professional in the fields of rheumatology and orthopedics, where she specialized in patient and community service, patient education, and advocacy.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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