For people living with arthritis, pain is a daily reality, which can be a lonely and upsetting experience. But things can become even more serious, since we know that persistent, long-term pain manifests itself not just physically, but also emotionally. Many people facing persistent pain with arthritis also tend to suffer from depression.  

But all hope is not lost. Although challenging, you don’t need to let your symptoms control you. Instead, taking back some control allows you to break the pain cycle, to emerge into a pattern when your condition is better managed and where you can be more comfortable.  

What We Know Helps... 

  • Arming Yourself with Knowledge: Learning more about pain and about the skills that could help manage your pain could be life changing. One of the best places to start could be with our new weekly webinar series, 'Breaking the Pain Cycle, taking place this autumn [Register here to secure your place]. Held by consultant Rheumatologists, Physiotherapists and Clinical Psychologists, these will cover topics ranging from  sleep and pain medication to advice on exercise, diet and how to work on your thoughts to help break the pain cycle.  

  • Applying Heat & Cold: Heat (delivered through a heat pad, water bottle or in a sauna) dilates the blood vessels, stimulates blood circulation, and reduces stiffness and muscle spasms. Cold compresses, on the other hand, can reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain related to arthritis and activity. These are essential comforts during flare-ups, but their effects are temporary, so the next point is crucial. 

  • Consulting your Healthcare Team: Contact your healthcare team, who may need to look at reinstating anti-inflammatory medications, or adjusting your other medication. If you notice your symptoms change or worsen, it’s crucial to document and communicate these. It is also worth re-engaging with your physiotherapist to see if there are specific exercises or techniques that could help to control your pain (see below).  

  • Keeping on Moving: Although it may be the last thing you feel like, all the scientific evidence points to the fact that continued movement can actually decrease your pain and stiffness when you have arthritis. Gentle, daily stretches and a short walk can make a huge difference, once balanced with enough rest. Many people with arthritis are worried that exercise could cause further damage to their joints, but our bodies are designed to move and resting too much could be causing you more harm to your joints and the tissues around them. Pick something you enjoy – walking, golf, swimming or even dancing at home – and then you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. Consistency is key for this to have a real impact on your quality of life.  

  • Asking for Help: You may not be used to asking for help, and therefore struggle to do so, but now is a time to swallow any pride you may about ‘always coping’ or being perfect and admit that you do need help. This could mean speaking up to family, by asking them to take over more chores, or taking more short-cuts by buying healthy ready meals to make dinner easier. There will be times when you feel more able, but now is a time to accept all the help you are offered (or to ask for it, without any guilt, if it’s not offered – you deserve it!).  

  • Engaging a Psychotherapist or Counsellor: If you notice that you are more anxious than usual, have symptoms of depression that are not improving, or notice that your mood is affecting your relationships with family and friends, it’s important to get help early. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be very helpful at shifting distorted thoughts, which have been proven to make our pain worse. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all inter-linked – so change your thoughts, and your mood and your choices are likely to change for the better too.  

  • Learning to Accept your Condition: Persistent, long-term pain is an incredibly difficult thing to deal with and accept. But, for many people who have lived with arthritis-related pain for decades, they say acceptance is key. When people begin to see arthritis (and associated flare-ups) as their ‘new normal’, in addition to following self-management techniques, most report that life becomes easier. To find out more about self-management, visit the courses section of the Arthritis Ireland website.  

Never Give Up

Although it is challenging, it is possible to live a quality life, in spite of pain. It’s also possible to still fulfill all those goals and dreams that you may still have. It is possible to live a life that is purposeful, active and engaged – so never give up on that. 

Be inspired by others who have learnt to develop self-management skills to see them through their own arthritis-related pain here: patient stories. 

Read part 2 of Managing the Challenges of Pain here.