Healing the Hurt: Overcoming the
Pain of Arthritis
by Frances McQuire Paist, Staff Writer

Arthritis. The word literally means joint inflammation and includes more than 100 different diseases, all of which center around bodily aches and pains and the aggravations that accompany those wretched symptoms.  For the patient, what was once daily routine threatens to become the daily grind unless stringent emotional and physical expectations are put into place. And for the person charged as caregiver, love and understanding heavily flavored with a no-nonsense approach to moving ahead are the best ways to help the person trying admirably to see him- or herself in a new light. Call it tough love, but know it’s the right way.

As the nation’s leading cause of disability, arthritis affects one in three adults and nearly 300,000 children. To hear a diagnosis of arthritis understandably causes fear, but it is important not to give into this emotion, for in a self-perpetuating cycle, fear leads to stress and stress negatively affects the disease. In a pattern similar to that of grieving, the newly diagnosed patient might feel fear, then anger, anxiety and depression before finally coming to a place of acceptance or denial. The patient in denial is a person not yet ready to see things the way they are, and he or she will require more help and counseling from caregivers as well as professionals to come to a place of acceptance.

The Arthritis Foundation celebrates National Arthritis Month in May of each year and challenges those with arthritis to “More Life, Less Limits,” encouraging them to take control of their situations. Stating that the disease should not have the final word, the Arthritis Foundation encourages patients and their caregivers to “seek more and do more,” not giving in to inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle.

And so exactly what can caregivers and those diagnosed do to counter the negative aspects of this potentially debilitating diagnosis? First of all, according to the Arthritis Foundation, an early diagnosis is critical in order to prevent less joint damage and pain. Patients should avoid excess stress on their joints, using larger or stronger joints to carry things. Care should be taken to maintain weight at its appropriate level so that undue pressure on hips and knees can be avoided. A diet rich in calcium and fiber along with fruits, vegetables and protein will yield beneficial results. Proper exercise is very important and will lessen pain, increase range of motion and prevent fatigue. Swimming, walking0and stretching are0ideal, but0finding something enjoyable to0ensure continued pleasure0is important0as well. Listening to0favorite tunes0can lighten moods and cancel out pain for a while. In fact, working hard to introduce humor into life in spite of pain can be one of the best assists around. Laughing relaxes muscles, relieves pain and boosts the immune system. The foundation goes on to suggest other healthy options like drinking orange juice or eating oranges for the inherent Vitamin C, antioxidant and folic acid benefits. Little extras like that warm bath before bed can work wonders for aching extremities, and finding a certified massage therapist promises pleasure. Journaling can help otherwise unexpressed emotions find a much-needed outlet. And, by the way, indulge yourself. Wear comfy shoes, forgetting those fashionable but toe-cramping options so readily available at the mall. Do something nice for yourself, like deciding to quit smoking. Did you know that smoking increases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis complications and can play a role in the development of osteoporosis? Finally, says the foundation, reach outside of yourself to help others, thus temporarily forgetting your own maladies. And seek a higher power, as spiritual involvement has been shown to help people feel better physically and emotionally.

Certainly, the caregivers of those afflicted have their own agendas of uncertainty. To know that your spouse, child or parent has just been diagnosed with a potentially crippling disorder means you will have questions about how your life will be affected. Will more daily demands be placed on your shoulders? Will you be able to fulfill your own hopes and dreams as well as those you once had with your child, parent or significant other? While it is understandable to have questions and feel fearful, it is important not to let them overtake your sense of wellbeing. Here are some suggestions that can help you stay strong and cope.

Communicate

Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” These wise words lend credence to the importance of communication for the caregiver:

Talk to your doctor and ask questions of him or her. Writing down questions as they occur and keeping them handy will ensure that answers are obtained in a timely manner.

Seek out your friends, particularly those who may have similar situations and can relate. Consider these wise words: “True friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient, it’s about being there when it’s not.”

Join a support group.  Airing your questions and concerns won’t just help you. It may help the others who are also present.

Most importantly, perhaps, communicate with the person for whom you are caring, whether that’s your spouse, your parent or your child.

Call on others for support and assistance. While this may not be easy, it is important. Be ready to be very specific with your requests.

 Seek Inspiration

Getting to know some people who have lived full lives in spite of arthritis will provide inspiration that goes a long way. Lucille Ball, well-known film and television actress, suffered with rheumatoid arthritis as a young woman and was unable to walk for two years. But her famous television show, “I Love Lucy”, the first situation comedy to be filmed before a live audience, won five Emmy awards and was the number one show in America after only four months on the air. And Auguste Renoir, famed French impressionistic painter and sculptor, suffered with rheumatoid arthritis and actually had to have his paintbrushes tied to his hands so that he might create his works of art.  He eventually became paralyzed in both legs and turned to sculpting when he could no longer paint.

Get Educated

Learn about arthritis. Read books, seek counsel, even surf the web (but be careful to make sure the websites you visit are reliable). www.arthritis.org is the website for the Arthritis Foundation and provides a wealth of information and resources.

Take Care of Yourself

As a caregiver, it is far too easy to neglect your own needs. Follow these suggestions, though, and you’ll be ready for the demands that caregiving requires:

Exercise. Swimming and walking are great outlets for those with arthritis and can easily be enjoyed in couples or larger groups.

 

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