Are holidays especially hard on your arthritis? Holiday survival guide for Illinois arthritis sufferers

Are holidays especially hard on your arthritis? Holiday survival guide for Illinois arthritis sufferers


Follow these tips to make this season more enjoyable.

CHICAGO—The pace of the holiday season is stressful for all of us, but even more so for the 3 million Illinois residents who suffer from the chronic pain and inflammation of arthritis. Tasks like shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, and visiting friends and relatives can all take a toll both physically and emotionally on arthritis sufferers, who generally fatigue faster and require more rest. Arthritis affects one in three Illinois residents, according to DePuy Orthopaedics, a Johnson & Johnson company that makes artificial knee, hip and extremity replacements to treat severe arthritis.

“In addition to the extra activity and stress of the holidays, Illinois’ cold winter months can further worsen the pain of arthritis,” said Robert J. Daley, M.D., of Hinsdale Orthopaedic Associates and a specialist in total joint replacement.

“The best medicine for this time of year is a keen awareness of the conditions that can make arthritis pain worse,” Dr. Daley said. “Patients can consider taking mild over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines when their joints and pain flare. That’s helpful this time of year when there are large swings in temperature and humidity. Heating pads can also bring relief,” he said. “Patients in need of joint replacement should consider having them done during the winter so they can recover while the weather’s bad and be ready to enjoy spring and summer activities and nice weather.”

According to DePuy Orthopaedics, arthritis can strike at any age, and prevalence increases with age, affecting more women than men.

For people with arthritis, there’s a fine line between staying active and doing too much. While it’s important for arthritis sufferers to keep active, they need to be sure not to over-fatigue themselves.

“When you’re shopping or out and about, and you feel your strength going, that’s a warning that it’s time to take a break. If arthritis sufferers stay in one position for too long, their joints will stiffen, and pain will set in,” Dr. Daley said.

In addition to taking frequent breaks to sit down and rest, experts recommend that people with arthritis dress in layers, so clothing can be easily removed indoors when needed. Overheating adds stress to your body, which in turn, makes you more tired. And, when you’re tired, your arthritis pain is more noticeable.

Ginger Dodd, director of the Northeast Indiana Arthritis Foundation, agrees that people with arthritis need to listen to their bodies.

“At any time of year, but especially during busy times like the holidays, it is important for people with arthritis to acknowledge their limitations and be good to their bodies,” Dodd said. “It isn’t how much you get done, how many parties you attend, or how many gifts you purchase. If you make yourself more comfortable and take care of yourself, that’s the best gift you can give yourself and your family.”

Dodd recommends that in the midst of holiday activities, arthritis sufferers put themselves first every now and then by getting their hair done, having a massage, or indulging in some other form of self-pampering.

“Exercise is also a great stress reliever,” Dodd said. “My advice would be to join an arthritic aquatics course, which not only helps ease pain and build strength, but also relieves stress and fatigue.”

On the other side of the coin, Dodd said that in addition to putting themselves and their health first, many people with arthritis find it helpful to cope by helping others, especially during the holidays. “Volunteering or getting involved in a charity effort can take the focus off of your own discomfort,” Dodd said. Some other tips:

l Shopping—Use catalogs and the Internet to avoid crowded stores and malls. Enlist help from family and friends, and take advantage of motorized carts, wheelchairs, or walkers when venturing out for extended shopping trips.

l Cooking—Look for simple recipes with minimal steps when preparing holiday meals and treats. Check out the local supermarket for their offerings of prepared dinners and snack trays.

l Wrapping gifts—If your arthritis is in your hands or arms, wrapping gifts can be a pain—literally. Shop at stores and malls that provide gift-wrapping services. Be alert for organizations that sponsor gift wrapping for those who need it, or ask a family member, friend or neighbor to help out.

“It’s crucial to talk honestly with your doctor about your arthritis pain,” said Dr. Daley, who performs joint-replacement surgeries for patients with severe arthritis. “With today’s clinical technology, it’s a shame when patients suffer in silence.”

A list of Illinois arthritis specialists is available at or

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