October 8, 2021

Planning ahead and thinking creatively can help you deal with all the little things surrounding osteoarthritis.

When osteoarthritis is causing joints to stiffen and ache, it can affect a lot of daily tasks that otherwise wouldn’t cause trouble. Making a few changes in your daily life and your surroundings can reduce stress on your joint, as well as reduce your mental stress. These workarounds can also help protect your joints from further damage.

Always lift items with both hands, ask for help and try assistive tools that can make life easier. 

In particular, for those with stiff, painful shoulders, “when lifting objects, be sure to hold them close to your body, not with an outstretched arm. Avoid repetitive overhead activities,” said shoulder surgeon Eric Bowman, M.D., MPH.  And be aware of your posture. “Don’t let your neck and shoulders droop forward; a few times per hour, pull your head back and pull your shoulder blades together.”

Smart strategies:

Make your home work better for you

  • Arrange the contents of cupboards, closets, desks and drawers in a way that will minimize the amount of reaching and bending you need to do to get ahold of frequently used items.
  • Arrange furniture to make it safer and easier to get around.
  • Secure or remove rugs, power cords and other items that might trip you or make it easy to slip.

Think ahead about what challenges you might face in daily life with osteoarthritis.

If you plan in advance, these strategies for osteoarthritis may help:

  • Combine errands so that you make fewer trips up and down stairs.
  • Divide up packages and bags so that you carry less weight with each trip. For example, ask cashiers to use more bags for your groceries.
  • If you need help with chores or errands, try to arrange for regular help in advance.
  • If you need to lift something heavy, ask for help.
  • Try to use other parts of your body if you have pain in certain joints.

Helpful items

To rest your hands, back, and neck:

  • Keep knives sharp, so you don’t have to use too much pressure to chop food.
  • In the kitchen, use lightweight dishes, pans and bakeware.
  • Use a “reacher” or “grasper” tool to grasp items.
  • Use soap-on-a-rope and a long-handled scrubber in the shower or bath.

To rest your knees, hips, and lower back:

  • Wear shoes that feel good, fit well and provide good support.
  • Choose chairs with firm seats and armrests.

Specific products that can help: 

  • Attach larger handles to keys.
  • Use helpful gripping devices for opening jars. 
  • For gardening, use a rolling bench to sit on or to hold your tools. Use tools with padded handles.
  • In the bathroom, try using grab bars, a raised toilet seat or a shower seat.
  • A cane, brace, or walker may help you walk more easily. Make sure that it’s properly fitted and that you’re trained to use it. For knee braces, depending on where the osteoarthritis affects the knee (in the middle or on the sides), an unloader knee brace can help. Ask your orthopedist if one would help your knee.

Exercise helps the whole body

“Studies have also shown the closer you are to ideal body weight, the better your hip and knee will feel if you have osteoarthritis in those joints,” said Paul Rummo, DO, a sports medicine orthopedist. He recommends frequent low-impact aerobic exercise to patients with osteoarthritis – walking, biking, using an elliptical trainer, swimming, water aerobics and/or a rowing machine. 

Whole-body resistance (strength) training helps tone the low back, core, hip and knee, which in turn provide better support to the hips and knees. Stretching exercised also help strengthen muscles that support and protect the joints. Stretching can help increase your joints’ range of motion and reduce stiffness.

“Exercises like yoga and tai chi can help improve balance, posture and coordination and can reduce falls,” Rummo said.  

A middle-aged couple take a selfie standing outdoors on a deck in autumn.

If you have painful, arthritic joints that limit movement, specialists at the Vanderbilt Joint Replacement Program can help you move more easily and comfortably. They provide a range of treatments, from arthroscopy to total hip and knee replacements. Personalized care will help you get back to your normal activities as soon as possible.

Learn More

Paul Rummo, D.O., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.  His areas of expertise include adult orthopedics, fractures and sports medicine.
Eric N. Bowman, M.D., MPH, is an Assistant Professor in the department of Orthopaedic Surgery.  His areas of expertise include adolescent sports medicine, adult orthopedics, orthopedic surgery and shoulder surgery.