No matter what type of arthritis you have, what you do to help yourself is very important. You can choose to do nothing and gradually lose the ability to do things you want, or you can work at maintaining or regaining some of your former abilities and pleasures. These are different arthritis management styles.
The choice is whether or not you want to be passive or active managers. We know from research that those who are active managers have less pain, are more active, and are better able to do more of the things they want. Click here to sign up for an Arthritis Ireland Living well with Arthritis self management programme today.
If the choice is to be an active manager, then we must be willing to take on three sets of self-management tasks.
1. Take care of your health problem (such as taking medicine, exercising, going to your healthcare providers, changing diet)
Keeping informed about your status - asking questions, reading and when necessary carrying information from one provider to another. Taking part in planning your treatment programme by monitoring and reporting on your condition and sharing our preferences and goals with the doctor and all other members of your healthcare team.
2. Carry out your normal activities (jobs, employment, social life, etc.)
Doing the things in life that are important to us. This may mean changing the way we do things. FOr example, using a garden tool on wheels or having prepared dinners in the freezer for times we are not feeling up to cooking.
3. Manage your emotional changes (Changes brought about by your illness, such as anger, uncertainty about the future, changed expectations and goals, and sometimes depression. Changes can also happen in your relationships with family and friends.)
Knowing that there will be emotional 'ups and downs' and that the 'downs' are not pits to crawl out of, but natural ups and downs that all paths have.
Many people assume that the symptoms they are experiencing are due to only one cause: arthritis or fibromyalgia. While it can certainly cause pain, fatigue, it is not the only cause. Each of these symptoms can by themselves contribute to the other symptoms, and all can make pain and fatigue worse.
Even worse, they can feed on each other. For example, inflammation from the arthritis can cause pain, which causes stress and anxiety, that can cause poor sleep, poor sleep can cause depression, depression can sometimes make it hard to take medications as we should, and these can lead to more pain or fatigue, and so on. The interactions of these symptoms, in turn, make our arthritis or fibromyalgia seem worse. It becomes a vicious cycle that only gets worse unless we find a way to break the cycle. This is called the Pain/Fatigue Cycle.
By understanding the Pain/Fatigue Cycle and how each symptom contributes to increase others, we can learn techniques that help break the cycle at these various points. Before we go on to talk about some of the tools we will learn in this workshop, there are a few key principles for pain management:
- Treating pain earlier is more effective than if you wait until it gets bad. Don’t wait to see if it’s going to get worse. Treat pain when you first notice it.
- Small changes in pain can make a huge difference. You do not have to be pain free to do what you want and like. Sometimes just taking the edge off the pain can make a great difference.
- Self-management activities such as exercise are not usually pain free. However, you can use pain as a way to judge when we have done too much or when we should be doing more. We will talk more about this when we discuss exercise.
There are many things you can do to break the pain/fatigue cycle using your self-management tool box. This toolbox includes a variety of tools, such as physical activity (or exercise), healthy eating, problem-solving, modifying activities, planning, medications, communicating, and thinking activities that use the mind. We can use these tools at different times, as needed, to break this cycle and manage pain and fatigue. You don’t use a screwdriver for every thing; sometimes you need a hammer or a drill. It’s the same way with this toolbox.
Every year Arthritis Ireland runs a six week self-management course, Living Well with Arthritis programme, that teach techniques and offer support to help you live positively with arthritis. Click here to sign up to a course in your area.