The Pain Of Arthritis & How It Can Impact People's Lives
Arthritis is a painful, long term invisible health condition which affects over 10 million people in the U.K. While often seen as an older person’s illness, around 15,000 children and young people also live with arthritis and it can affect people of all ages.
Living with an invisible, painful illness can be incredibly difficult. Some people may struggle with mobility and doing everyday things around the house, whilst others may feel they are unable to enjoy physical activities because of the pain. Arthritis affects different people in different ways and some days may bring more symptoms than others.
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to manage the pain of arthritis. We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, consultant rheumatologist and medical adviser for Arthritis Action, to find out more.
The pain and symptoms of arthritis
“The word “arthritis” means ‘inflammation in the joints’. Inflammation is a difficult thing to imagine and describe, but it is part of the body’s normal healing process, just like the healing of a cut or a bruise. Inflammation can be thought of as being like a bruise with swelling on the inside of the joints, and this can cause symptoms including pain and stiffness,” says Dr Wendy.
The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage (a smooth layer of tissue that lies between the bone and the joint and helps your joints move smoothly) starts to wear down. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility in the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition where the immune system attacks healthy parts of the body, which leads to painful inflammation.
“The pain felt due to arthritis differs hugely from person to person, and can come and go at different times. The reason for this pain and stiffness depends on the type of arthritis causing it. In osteoarthritis, the body is attempting to repair itself, forming new bone which grinds painfully against your body. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Gout, meanwhile, is caused by crystals of uric acid irritating the joints” Dr Wendy continues.
The impact of arthritis
“Arthritis causes constant pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, which can affect how people live their day-to-day lives. People with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis are also at increased risk of other conditions such as heart disease, stroke and issues with bone health including osteoporosis,” says Dr Wendy.
Not all days with arthritis are the same and symptoms can flare up and then feel comparatively mild. If you have arthritis in your hand, it may be difficult to hold a book or open a can. If you have arthritis in the knee, it may be difficult to walk, dance or run. Living with an invisible health condition can be incredibly frustrating and uncomfortable, but luckily there are drug and drug-free options which can help alleviate the symptoms.
Arthritis’ impact on sleep and mental health
Aside from physical pain, arthritis can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health.
“Mental health problems are very common in people with arthritis. Having any painful condition can get people down in time. Having to take regular drugs indefinitely, which may have side effects, can also get people down. Pain can also lead to poor sleep quality, meaning that people wake frequently up at night and do not get the deep restorative sleep that we all need to wake up feeling refreshed. This contributes to fatigue and low mood, both of which can then increase the levels of pain in a vicious cycle,” says Dr Wendy.
“The good news is that arthritis pain often comes and goes, sometimes even going completely. Staying positive on a bad day by knowing that the pain will settle, and simple pain-management techniques including relaxation, distraction and counting blessings can really help,” she continues.
Managing an invisible illness
The pain of arthritis can be really difficult at times, but self management combined with medication and drug-free alternatives can help reduce symptoms and give you back control over your life.
“Research shows that a supported ‘self-management’ approach towards living with arthritis, including managing your exercise, weight, pain management, and healthy eating, can significantly improve your quality of life,” says Dr Wendy.
“Self-management of arthritis, put simply, is managing your condition yourself using a variety of methods to address both the physical and mental impacts of arthritis. Arthritis affects people differently, so each individual can choose the techniques that help them live a fuller, more active life whilst living with the condition. There are many techniques that can help symptoms, especially managing weight, sensible use of pain-killing medicines, gentle exercise, and therapies to help with the mind, sleep or pain-related worries,” she continues.
Living with the pain of arthritis can be incredibly challenging, but luckily there are many ways you can help manage your symptoms to reduce the pain. How does arthritis impact your life and what do you find helps? Let us know on Facebook.