Just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, so is pain. When it comes to arthritis, pain is a part of everyday life, but it’s also different for each person. How someone with arthritis copes with that pain can make the difference between an active, happy life, and one filled with dread at the thought of getting up out of bed in the morning.
I am one of the 46 million Americans who suffer from arthritis. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 17 and have it in all of my major joints. Like many others, I am in constant pain, but I have refused to let it rule my life. Over the years I have learned a few key strategies for coping with pain which have allowed me to live my life to the fullest.
1. Get moving every day Maybe it sounds counter-intuitive when you are in pain, but exercising, even if it’s only walking, is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility. It can also reduce stress and improve sleep – which both help you to feel better. It’s no coincidence that a key slogan of the Arthritis Foundation is “Let’s move together.” How do you start?
Talk to your doctor to get recommendations on the best exercises to help you. Don’t risk injuring yourself by trying things your body may not be able to handle
Commit to moving every day. Sometimes you won’t feel like it, but even 10 minutes of walking will feel good, and once you hit the 10 minute mark you will probably want to keep going
Get support from friends and family. They can be a source of encouragement and can exercise with you
2. Find the treatment that works for you Over the years, the number of treatments available for people with arthritis has dramatically increased. There are a number of new drugs, and the options for joint replacements continue to get more sophisticated and less invasive with shorter recovery times. Don’t just assume that because there is no cure for arthritis it means that there are no medical options available to help you manage the pain. The keys are to:
See your doctor regularly
Communicate in detail about how you are feeling, especially if your pain has changed in any way
Ask lots of questions about available treatment options, particularly if you don’t believe your current treatment is effective
3. Have a positive outlook Arthritis is a chronic condition, and until there is a cure, it’s going to always be there once you have it. You can either deal with it or complain. If you choose to deal with it using a strong positive attitude all the time, you will feel better. You can have the best doctor, the best medicine, good exercise and diet, but without a positive attitude, those other things won’t help you fully manage your pain. It’s easy to say, but harder to do. Here are a few ideas for developing a more positive outlook:
Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t do. I was an avid skier and golfer when I was younger, and had to give up those sports because of my arthritis. Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost, I choose to focus on all of the things I can do, like working on my car, working on projects around the house, or walking around the neighborhood
Be grateful. Regardless of your specific situation, there is always something to be grateful for, whether it’s for your family, your friends, your home, or other aspects of your life. You can either be depressed that you have trouble doing something like bending and touching your toes, or grateful that you can walk
Recognize that you are in control of your own destiny. Don’t be a victim to pain – use the recommendations in this article to take control and manage your pain. When you feel like you are playing an important role in affecting how you feel, it’s much easier to stay positive
4. Find products that make daily tasks easier I admit that sometimes it’s challenging to keep a positive outlook when it seems that at every turn, doing the simplest things can be a challenge. Why spend time being frustrated when there are many inexpensive self-help products on the market that can help you with your daily tasks. Keep reachers handy if you have trouble bending. You can get a sock aid to make the process of putting on socks or nylons easy. There are literally thousands of products on the market designed specifically to help people with pain or limited mobility.
5. Get involved With so many millions of people suffering from arthritis, there is a great need for increasing awareness about the disease and raising money for support programs and research. Did you know that more than 300,000 children have arthritis? How about that there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis?
Getting involved by volunteering and fundraising is one way to feel less like a victim of the disease and more empowered. You will also meet some wonderful people who can relate to what you are going through and provide invaluable support. The Arthritis Foundation is the main non-profit organization related to arthritis in the US and is always looking for enthusiastic advocates, volunteers and fundraisers, and they have offices all around the country. Various studies have also shown that volunteering can have many positive impacts on your health, including preventing depression, reducing the chance of some illnesses, and even extending your life!
Set a goal for yourself to start implementing these strategies, and start feeling better!
About the Author
Chris Stoeri was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 17, and has spent several years as an active volunteer for the Arthritis Foundation. He founded EnableYourLife.com to help people with all types of diabilities to more easily tackle their daily challenges, providing a wide range of mobility products, self help aids, wheelchair parts and accessories, and thousands of other medical produtcts and supplies.