7 Tips for Understanding and Managing The Pain Of Arthritis – Flexiseq

7 Tips for Understanding and Managing The Pain Of Arthritis

We don’t need to tell you that living with a painful health condition like arthritis is difficult. To make things worse the cause of the pain is invisible, so you have to keep explaining - and sometimes even feel like you’re having to justify - your very real experience of pain.

You may be wondering why you need tips for understanding the pain of arthritis - because who could understand it better than someone living with this condition? This article isn’t trying to lecture you about your own pain, but rather to help you understand the different types of arthritic pain so you can better explain it to doctors, friends and family, and so you feel more empowered to advocate for your needs.

To get a better understanding of arthritis pain, we spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, Arthritis Action Medical Advisor and Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist.

1. Understand the difference between acute and chronic pain

Acute pain happens quickly and is often the result of an injury. Once the cause of the acute pain has been solved, it typically goes away within a few hours, days or weeks. Acute pain often shows us when something is wrong that needs our attention. The symptoms of acute pain often respond well to pain medication.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts longer than six months and can sometimes last for years without going away. There isn’t always an obvious cause for the pain, it can be harder to treat and doesn’t always respond to pain medication.

“People with arthritis can experience both acute and chronic pain,” says Dr Wendy Holden. “Those with inflammatory types of arthritis such as Rheumatoid Arthritis can experience sudden ‘flare-ups’ of acute pain which are felt as a sudden sharp pain in one or two joints. This can last a few days and be accompanied by redness and swelling around the joint. The person may feel unwell and fatigued. Underlying this can be long term chronic pain associated with permanent tissue damage.”

2. The RICE Method for acute pain

“Health professionals use the word ‘RICE’ when addressing acute pain, which may help to follow if you have a sudden flare-up of a particular joint,” says Dr Wendy.

R stands for rest and relaxation – try to rest the joint for a few days until the flare-up subsides.

I stands for ice. You may find that an ice pack wrapped in a tea-towel can help reduce the inflammation surrounding the joint. However, some people find heat or a combination of both to be more beneficial. It depends on what works best for you.

C stands for compression. Sometimes a joint will feel more comfortable if it is supported. Use a lightweight stretchy support and don’t keep it on for long periods.

E stands for elevation. If your pain is from the leg or hip it can sometimes feel more comfortable to raise the leg on a stool when you are sitting down. Again, it is a matter of trial and error to find what works for you. Little and often is the key.

3. Learn how to talk about chronic pain

“Those with osteoarthritis tend to experience more chronic, long-term pain,” says Dr Wendy. “This can range from slight stiffness in the morning to severe pain, particularly on movement. This can lead to increased stress levels which can in turn increase pain levels, making you unable to enjoy those little things in life.”

Chronic pain can be difficult to manage because it can make you feel overwhelmed, make it harder to do the things you enjoy and have a negative impact on so many areas of your life. It can also feel difficult to explain to people who don’t have a chronic pain condition.

When talking about chronic pain, try to explain how it feels. Is it sharp or dull? Does it feel like anything someone might have experienced in another context? Does it get worse in the morning or at night? Does it come and go or is it constant? Expressing your unique experience of pain - and explaining what can trigger it or help with it - can make it easier for other people to understand.

Living with chronic pain can feel like a vicious cycle, but there are ways to break it and make your pain more manageable.

4. Do more exercise

We know it sounds counterintuitive, and that the last thing you’ll want to do when you have arthritis is to exercise, but it really can make a positive difference to your pain levels and in other areas of your life.

“Exercise releases chemicals, called endorphins, into the body,” says Dr Wendy. “These are the ‘feel good factor’ chemicals that will help lift your mood and give you more energy. Exercise can also be good for strengthening muscles which help support joints and can increase mobility.”

5. Relax and learn how to meditate

Stress can make the pain of arthritis worse, because when your body is stressed it releases chemicals that can trigger inflammation and pain. Stress also makes you more prone to infection, because a body that is dealing with stress has a reduced ability to fight off antigens.

“Arthritis can cause muscles to become tense, making them painful to move,” says Dr Wendy. “The purpose of relaxation is to release muscle tension throughout the body. Learning to relax properly is a skill that has to be learned. There are many good books on relaxation and meditation techniques so check out your local library or bookshop.”

6. Control your breathing

“Often when we are in pain we tend to tense up and breathe shallowly,” says Dr Wendy. “This is not a good way to manage pain. It may seem to help in the short term, but eventually, it can lead to further pain. Learning to breathe deeply and from your diaphragm will help you ‘go with the pain’ and be more in control, which lessens the fear of pain. Pilates, Tai Chi or Alexander Technique classes all show you how to regulate your breathing and have the added benefit of mixing with others.”

Deep breathing (where you can feel your stomach expand and release) is an important part of many meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as a tool you can use to improve your mental health. Try breathing in for a count of 4, hold your breath at the top, and release for a count of 4, waiting a moment before repeating the process.

7. Improve your sleep pattern

“A poor sleep pattern is a common complaint from individuals with chronic pain,” says Dr Wendy. “Lack of sleep can increase stress levels and inflammatory hormones, which makes the pain worse.”

Dr Wendy suggests the following strategies for improving your sleep pattern.

  • Practise meditation which can reduce stress levels
  • Try and avoid napping during the day
  • Develop a sleep ritual that relaxes you before bed
  • Avoid stimulating drinks in the evening and change your bedtime drink to a calming herbal infusion or a warm milky drink.

    If you have trouble sleeping, try winding down earlier on, consider reading a book rather than bingeing a series, and try to keep your bedroom dark without any unnatural blue light from devices. It’s also a good idea to try to sleep at the same time every day, so your body naturally learns when it’s time for bed.

    What are your tips for understanding and managing the pain of arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.
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