Articulating arthritis: How to talk about joint pain
Living with an invisible chronic pain condition can be incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. Outside of the debilitating pain itself, it can be challenging when it feels like no one knows what you’re going through. They can’t feel the pain that you feel and they may not be able to see how much it affects your day-to-day life, so it can be challenging to feel heard and seen by those around you.
It is really important to be able to learn how to talk about joint pain and advocate for yourself. This is really important when speaking to a doctor so you can ensure you get the best possible care which is tailored to your specific needs, but it’s also crucial to be able to express your feelings to friends and family so they can better support you.
Whether you need practical support around the house during a flare up or if you just want to be able to talk to someone about how you feel, open and honest communication can really make all the difference.
How to talk to a doctor about joint pain
We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor and Consultant Rheumatologist at Arthritis Action, to get some tips on what you should talk to a doctor about when you are explaining your symptoms to them.
Using clear, specific language to express how you feel can help with a diagnosis if you think you may have arthritis, and it can also ensure your doctor has all the information in place to give you the best possible care and treatment plans.
These questions can also help rule out any other conditions and can help you get an early diagnosis if there is anything else to be concerned about. It’s good to be as specific as you can be and use words which describe how the pain feels to you - is it a sharp twang or a dull throb, for example?
Dr Wendy recommends that you think about the answers to the following eight questions ahead of seeing a doctor.
1. Where is the pain - point to it if that helps, and does the pain go anywhere else?
2. Do you have joint swelling - if so, where?
3. How long have you had the pain, and is it getting worse over time?
4. Is it pain all over the area or can you put your finger on the exact point of pain?
5. What makes the pain worse - for example certain movements, certain times of day, walking upstairs, exercise, stress?
6. What makes the pain better - for example rest, stretching or exercise, hot or cold, or certain types of weather?
7. Do any medicines help - for example paracetamol, anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, rub-on medicines, FlexiSEQ?
8. Do you have any other symptoms, for example does the pain wake you up at night? Do you have fevers or sweats and have you lost any weight?
How to talk to friends and family about joint pain
It can be hard to explain how something feels and affects you to someone who has no experience of it. Living with an invisible illness can be really frustrating, because it may feel like no one understands what you’re going through. A bit of understanding and empathy can go a long way in making you feel heard and supported, so here are some of our tips on how to talk to friends and family about joint pain.
1.Joint pain can be personal and specific, so it’s helpful to talk to those close to you about how arthritis can feel for you personally. Being able to tell someone in the moment that you’re struggling can be really helpful for practical and emotional reasons, so having people in your life that you can tell when you’re in pain or when you’re struggling with a specific task can be really beneficial.
2. Explain how arthritis can affect your daily life and get a support system in place so you can get assistance if necessary. If possible, it can be helpful to have several people who can help when needed so it doesn't feel like you’re asking a lot of one person.
3. If you work, it can be helpful to talk to your colleagues about certain tasks that you may sometimes find difficult. Admitting that you’re struggling in a workplace environment can feel intimidating, but it’s really helpful for those around you to know what’s going on so they can support you.
4. Sometimes it can be really nice to talk to people who know what you’re going through. If you don’t personally know anyone living with arthritis, you may consider joining a support or advocacy group with others who share your condition. Arthritis Action currently runs online groups which helps people living with arthritis meet other people with this condition in their local area. It’s also worth following FlexiSEQ on Facebook, we have a caring and friendly community who are always helpful in answering questions and offering tips.
5. Sometimes when we’re struggling it can help to talk to a professional therapist or counsellor who is trained in specific techniques that can help manage depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties. Living with arthritis can take its toll on our mental as well as physical health, so it’s important to not neglect your mental wellbeing.
Listening to other people’s experiences can be a really helpful way of knowing that you’re not alone and sharing tips on how to manage the pain of arthritis. Do you have any insights you would like to share? Send us a DM on Facebook.