Managing arthritis during the lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic

Ritika Srivastava
File Photo: Arthritis

File Photo: Arthritis

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought bigger challenges for arthritis patients.

The American Centre for Disease Control puts people with autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis at a higher risk to the Coronavirus infection.

Arthritis-India reports that 15% of our population or 180 million people are affected by arthritis.

High-Risk Group

Dr CS Yadav, Chairman and Senior Consultant in Joint Replacement Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, describes those with rheumatoid arthritis as a higher risk group.

“These patients already have low immunity. Also, the drugs used in the treatment of autoimmune arthritis weaken immunity. But we have to use the medicines to relieve the symptoms. So they need to be very cautious,” says Dr Yadav.

“The morbidity and mortality rate is also higher in people with immune-compromised rheumatoid arthritis. They may take longer to recover as well,” he adds.

Types of Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints.

It can be categorized into two types: Osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis that occurs with growing age and rheumatoid arthritis that can afflict young people too.

This type of arthritis puts patients at greater risk for infections, including the COVID-19.

Medications for the management of rheumatologic conditions weaken immunity, making these patients more vulnerable to infections.

Tackling Lockdown Woes: Exercise at Home

Walks, exercises and physiotherapy sessions are a routine prescribed for most arthritis patients.

However, the lockdown has restricted their movement which increases pain as well as stiffness in joints.

Dr Yadav says that patients should not discontinue their exercise. “Exercise at home and increase the duration. If you have a cycle or treadmill at home, use them. Other than jogging and walking, most of the exercises including muscle strengthening, stretching exercises can be done at home.”

Pain Management

Many arthritic patients are battling a surge in joint pain due to a change in routine.

For patients with osteoarthritis, Dr C S Yadav says, “These days the painkillers patients are prescribed are quite safe and their dosage can be increased to a certain limit to relieve pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs can also be taken to alleviate symptoms.” However, he cautions against increasing dosage without consulting their doctors.

Doctors also prescribe the use of fomentation and analgesic gels to manage pain locally.

As a long-term solution, many doctors recommend knee replacement or joint surgeries for severe symptoms where movement and daily activities are significantly reduced.

However, these are viable options only after the Coronavirus threat ends, till which time patients need to stay cautious.

Battling Anxiety

During the lockdown, doctors are also reporting a rise in anxiety levels and psychosomatic issues among the elderly and patients with bone and joint issues. Since patients are unable to go for regular checkups as OPDs are shut, panic calls to doctors are increasing. Experts say regular exercise and yoga can relieve both anxiety and stress.

Eating Right

Controlling your diet is crucial during a lockdown. Dr CS Yadav advises against consuming high amounts of carbohydrates and sugar. “Add more protein and vegetables, salads to your diet and reduce intake of rice and chapattis, especially if you can’t walk or exercise much,” he says.