By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1
Millions of Americans suffer from arthritis and all its various symptoms. It affects people of all ages and physical conditions, and even among patients with comparable symptoms, there are vast difference in the way people cope.
| The “R’s” of Coping With Arthritis:|
Relax—Stress causes muscle tension and increased joint pain and fatigue.
Rest - Your body sends plenty of signals like swelling, pain and stiffness when it needs down time.
Respond to pain - If certain activities increase the intensity of pain, avoid them or find alternatives.
Research new ways to incorporate physical activity in your life. Kickboxing may be out, but yoga offers many benefits.
Despite these differences, there is one constant: Research suggests that patients who have a positive, upbeat attitude are more likely to explore modifying their lifestyle behaviors to help manage their illnesses. According to a recent Mayo Clinic Health Letter, incorporating such lifestyle changes reflects an effective way to cope with the pain and limitations of arthritis.
People who approach their arthritis proactively are likely to experience less pain, which increases their feelings of control over their illness. Since symptoms of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis – joint pain, swelling, inflammation and stiffness – impact so many aspects of daily life, the more control the better.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the whole person – his or her sense of well-being, work, family life and community life. It affects everything a person does,” said Dr. Eric Matteson, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
So what does a proactive coping strategy for living with arthritis look like? The first step is to reduce stress. While it’s certainly easier said than done, stress increases muscle tension and can worsen arthritis pain, so eliminating sources of stress wherever possible can make a big difference. The less pain you’re in, the more you’re able to partake in desired activities.
Finding new ways to relax can help ease muscle tension and arthritis pain. Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest meditation, prayer or guided imagery, as well as massage therapy and deep breathing exercises. Yoga and tai chi are also effective ways to relax.
No one knows your body better than you, and when it comes to pain, understanding what your body is telling you is essential. There is a difference between general joint pain from disease and pain from overuse.
Certain activities trigger more intense pain; if pain manifests itself quickly and lasts for a couple of hours, it may be pain from overextension. Learn to recognize these patterns and isolate the activities that exacerbate your pain.
“I have to learn to read my body and know when to stop and for how long,” said long-time rheumatoid arthritis patient Sue Lepore. “The problem with arthritis is that you don’t ever just want to lie around all of the time either. You have to make yourself get up and move to maintain mobility in your joints,” she added.
As Lepore mentions, it is also important to keep moving, so the key is to find activities that let you move without stressing your joints. Regular exercise helps more than just joints; it increases positive moods and can help keep weight under control, thus minimizing stress on joints. Be creative; Lepore uses an adjusted golf club and a golf cart to ensure she can still participate in the sport she loves without fatiguing her joints.
For as important as motion is, part of controlling your disease includes knowing when to rest. Fatigued joints are especially painful and sometimes, the best way to reduce that pain and ensure a more speedy return to normal activities is to rest.
Trust the signs your body sends to you. Rest when a flare causes pain or swelling, and increase your activity when your symptoms abate.