With more than 50 million adults and children in the U.S. having some type of arthritis, it’s no laughing matter that it’s the leading cause of disability in our country.

We asked members to provide tips on how to manage arthritis, and many of them gave the same advice – a healthy diet and exercise can make a big difference on how well arthritis can be managed. See their tips below.

Please note that the following tips from members do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. These tips are intended as general information only. Please consult your physician for specific advice.

I have arthritis and joint problems. My knees, my hips and my shoulders keep me tossing and turning in bed all night. Sometimes the pain is semi-tolerable. Sometimes the pain brings me to tears. Conventional treatments are out of the question. I cannot take steroids, so shots are unavailable for pain relief. I also cannot take over-the-counter medications like NSAIDS. 

A pain management specialist gave me two choices: opioids or physical therapy. I will not take opioids by choice, so I elected to participate in physical therapy. Because I cannot engage in conventional exercise, the specialist recommended aqua therapy, which has proven beneficial on several fronts. Aqua therapy (water resistance exercising) keeps me limber and strengthens my core. It has been extremely beneficial in getting those endorphins (the feel-good chemicals in the brain) firing. 

Do I still have pain? Yes, but I have less pain and a feeling that I now control it — pain no longer controls me! Chronic illness does not have to be an ending. It can instead be the transition to a “different” beginning. How you view it and how you effectively deal with it is not about what you can’t do any longer, rather what you still can. As Grampy used to say, “focus on the doughnut, not the hole.” 

— S. Baldock

I have significant osteoarthritis of my cervical and lumbar spine and in my fingers. My way of dealing with the pain and stiffness is stretching daily and participating in water aerobics classes five days a week. 

— B. Shurley

I have arthritis (seems like everywhere), and it is pretty severe. I have a high tolerance for pain, so I just “keep on, keeping on,” but the pain is a constant presence.

My neck started to hurt so much that I was reluctant to turn my head to check to see if anyone was behind me when driving. When I backed into a vehicle, I said enough is enough — I need to do something. My orthopedic doctor suggested physical therapy, which made a huge difference. 

My physical therapist was excellent in helping adjust my attitude and get better. After I “graduated” physical therapy, I continued doing exercises at home. A year later, I still have pain, but not so much that it ruins my day. The new attitude and exercises help significantly.

I also keep my weight at what I weighed in high school — not an easy thing to do — by eating a low-carb diet. I try not to take Tylenol or Advil for arthritis pain, and save it for real pain, like a pulled muscle or an unexpected wound of some sort. I find that “keep on, keeping on” is the best medicine so far.

— J. Palmer

About 17 years ago, I began to experience recurring bouts of gout in several different joints. The attacks were acute and frequent enough to become debilitating. By re-energizing my exercise regimen and modifying my diet, I have not had an attack in over eight years. And for the last six years, I have not required any medication.

— R. Sedlock

I have only the beginnings of arthritis in my hands. At night when trying to sleep, my hands are often aching. I found that rubbing a cream with lidocaine on my hands can help ease the pain, and I am able to fall off to sleep. 

— C. Rodriguez

About 15 years ago, when I was in my late 30s, I met with an orthopedic surgeon to see if he could help me with my back and other aching joints. He told me that I had the arthritic back of an 80-year-old, and he didn’t recommend surgery for me because there were too many problem areas. I went home saddened that there wasn’t much that could be done for the pain. I wound up irritating my stomach by taking ibuprofen almost daily for years.

About three years ago, I started eating a low-carb diet. Less than a month into it, I got up one morning and braced myself for the pain that I always experienced when my feet hit the floor. Instead of creeping along for the first 10 or 20 steps until some of the aches wore off, I stood up straight in surprise and walked along at a good clip. My feet and legs didn’t hurt! And neither did my back! As time went on, I felt better and better, and I appeared to be aging in reverse. People are usually surprised to find out that I’m in my 50s.

To go with the pain relief, I have been able to stop taking all the medications (prescription and over-the-counter) that I was taking before. The prescriptions included those for blood pressure, cholesterol and even hypothyroidism. I was also on the verge of becoming a type 2 diabetic, but my blood sugar and A1C are now perfect. All that I take now are some select vitamin supplements daily.

Fast forward to today: I have lost around 40 pounds (about 10 to go to reach my goal), and I literally could run circles around my old self. I still work a desk job, and I don’t have a lot of time for exercise, so the only change that I made was in my diet. My diet consists primarily of meat, eggs, low-carb vegetables, some cheese and occasional berries. No sugar, no grains, no potatoes, no high-sugar fruits. My doctor has told me to “keep doing what you’re doing.” The changes in my body have been nothing short of dramatic.

— D. Jones

I have osteoarthritis. To manage it, I keep moving, eat healthy and get as much rest as I need. OK, sometimes I get less than I need, but mostly I manage it by not thinking about it. If I thought about it, I’d obsess over it and magnify the smaller twinges into big ones. I don’t have time for that.

— C. Buchanan