Aches and Pains of Arthritis
Aches and Pains of Arthritis
An estimated 46 million people suffer from the aches and pains of arthritis on a daily basis – and it looks like things are only going to get worse. The CDC is estimating that by the year 2030, more than 67 million people are going to be diagnosed with this painful condition.
You may already utilize hot and cold techniques when you are in pain, but when it comes to arthritis pain, there’s nothing that works more quickly or more efficiently than applying different temperatures to the afflicted joints.
The idea behind these two relief techniques is that when you apply heat to an affected area, it can help the muscles and other connective tissue to relax and to release tension. This also reduces the blood flow to the area as your body does not need to warm that body any more with excessive blood circulation.
On the other hand, when you apply cold to an area, you are helping to numb the pain and the aches of that part of your body. And since you are cooling that part of your body, it actually increases the blood flow to the area as your body responds to an upset in the normal temperature.
There are a number of different ways you can apply heat to a particular joint area or to your body as a whole:
Warm baths and showers
By allowing the body to soak or to be drenched in very warm to hot water, you will begin to feel instant relief. This is especially helpful first thing in the morning when your joints are often at their stiffest and most achy.
If you can get in and out of a whirlpool sort of bath, they can be quite helpful and relaxing. Not only are you immersed in hot water, but the jets of the bath can help to knead away any other tension in your body that might contribute to your arthritis pain.
If you have a specific area that you would like to warm up, heating pads are easy to plug in and use anywhere. With different settings, you can customize your heat level to your pain level.
Hot water bottles
Akin to heating pads, these hot water bottles can be placed over your clothing and near the affected area to help control the pain and stiffness.
To help keep your body warm and relaxed during the day, it can help to wear layers of clothing to hold in body heat. If this begins to be uncomfortable, you can easily remove these layers.
Warm bed sheets
If you want to make your night time pain easier to handle, warm sheets like flannel sheets can help retain body heat.
Things to keep in mind when you use heat:
For some, the application of cold works better to help numb excessive pain as well as to help reduce swelling around the joints, which can also lead to pain.
Here are some ways you can add cold treatments to your life:
Use regular ice packs and gel packs
These first aid treatments can also work well when placed inside a towel and then put on the affected area.
Try bags of frozen vegetables
If you don’t have an ice pack around, a back of frozen peas will work just as well.
Use cold water tubs
Instead of immersing your entire body in an icy bath, dip the affected body part into cooler water.
Things to keep in mind when you use cold:
Do not use cold treatments for more than 30 minutes at a time.Make sure your skin is clean and unbroken Never apply cold directly to the skin. Always use a towel or some other item as a barrier.
With either heat or cold therapy, you need to make sure you check your skin afterwards to make sure it’s still healthy. If you notice any purpling of your skin that does not go away, or redness that does not diminish, you may need to talk to your doctor about a potential injury.
Most people don’t need to be told twice to go get a massage, so if you’ve been debating it for your arthritis pain, now’s as good a time as any to get on a massage therapist’s table.Massage involves the manipulation of the muscles and connective tissues of the body. With direct pressure and movement of these areas, the patient’s body can relax and they can release pain.
Today, there are a number of different kinds of massage from which to choose:
Acupressure and shiatsu
Just like in acupuncture, this massage-like practice uses finger pressure to stimulate certain areas of the body to improve the energy flow and thus reduce pain.
Deep tissue massage
By digging into the muscles of the body, a deep tissue massage will help the body release tension. But keep in mind that this is a very intense massage that often can leave a patient sore in the beginning.
By simply rubbing certain parts of the body, it is thought the practitioner can affect other parts of the body, eliminating aches and pains in some patients. This is the most gentle of the massage practices, so it’s good for those who are newer or who are more sensitive.
While you might not know it by this name, the Swedish massage is the most common method of massage, utilizing long strokes on the skin to help reduce pain and tension.
You may find other types of massage in your local area as well, so make sure you understand what it might entail before you setup your first appointment.
Massage can be used as an instant relief technique when you have the ability to go to a massage therapist when you are feeling pain. Or you can teach your partner or a friend or family member to massage certain parts of your body.
But most arthritis sufferers find that regular massage therapy with a licensed massage therapist offers the most relief. Going for weekly massages seems to not only loosen the muscles and joints, but also can improve flexibility and range of motion.
A stiff body is often a sign of a ‘stiff’ mind, it’s thought. When we have stressful thoughts and ideas, we can often project this stress into our bodies in the form of muscle tension – not good for those who have troubles with arthritis.
Deep belly breathing
Most of us breathe shallowly when we are stressed. Of course, we don’t realize it, but it’s affecting the way our bodies can and can not relax. When we take shallow breaths, we aren’t getting as much oxygen into our bodies and into our bloodstream as possible.
This hinders our body’s ability to release tension. To relearn how to breathe deeply, here are the steps you need to take.
Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your chin up.Take one hand and place it on your chest.Take the other hand and place it on your stomach.Try to take breaths that allow the hand on your stomach to rise and to fall. It might feel a little weird to move your stomach in and out, but it gets easier with time.
Continue to practice this movement until it becomes second nature.
You can practice this deeper breathing no matter where you are and what you’re doing. In time, you will begin to breathe this deeply all the time, keeping your body as loose and as limber as possible.
Sometimes relaxation is as easy as reminding yourself of a time when you were feeling less tense. Daydreaming is a simple way for you to remind your inner self of a moment when you weren’t feeling any pain.
Simply close your eyes and think about a lovely place you have visited on vacation. Try to think about all of the senses and what they detected when you were there. Do things that you used to do.
Or if you don’t have any beautiful vacation spots in your memory, start thinking of a tropical paradise of your own design. The key with daydreaming is simply to let go of the cares of the world and to start thinking about a serene setting.
Other possible daydreams include:
An exciting sporting experience
Getting on a TV show
Meditation seems to have gotten a bad reputation as something that was for woo-woo New Age people. But while the New Age craze might have popularized meditation, it’s actually a practice that has been around for centuries.
Like daydreaming, you take your mind to a place where there is no pain and no stiffness. And as you practice doing so, you can teach your mind to be this still and calm all the time.
Here is a simple way to meditate:
Find a comfortable spot to sit (laying down often leads to a nap).
Close your eyes and think about how you are breathing.
Simply count your inhalation and then your exhalation. Breathe in One. Breathe out Two. Continue to count to yourself in this way.
All you are doing is focusing on your breaths, in and out. Whenever another thought comes into your mind, accept that it’s there and then try to release it in order to empty your mind once more.
Just 10 minutes a day has been shown to not only help arthritis sufferers reduce pain, but meditation also helps to strengthen the immune system and lower anxiety levels.
The idea that you simply need to change your attitude is probably not the first thing you think of when your joints begin to ache. After all, arthritis is painful, very painful, so what else can you do but complain about it?
However, each time you complain, you can be doing several things to your body:
Increasing your tension
Increasing your blood pressure and heart rate
Feeling more pain
Not enjoying the natural painkillers your body makes when you’re happy and relaxed
Yes, an optimistic attitude CAN help your arthritis pain.
Here are some tips to turn yourself into an optimist, or someone who just looks on the bright side of things:
Think about the good things of each day
Either in the morning or in the evening, take some time to think about the good things that happened or will happen. This will help you to recognize that your life is filled with positive things, rather than negative things.
Try to find the positive elements in everything
Whenever you are out in the world, try to focus on seeing the positives in everything. For example, when a person cuts you off in traffic, change your mind to think about how lucky you were to be safe in that encounter and think about how that person must really have somewhere to be since they didn’t mind your space.
Just the act of smiling can help your mood lift and your attitude brighten. Try smiling more to help bring up your spirits no matter how much pain you feel.
Focus on what you can do
It’s all too easy for any of us to focus on all the things we can’t do in our lives. Instead, make a list of all the things you can do. You might be amazed by how long this list can get.
Think about the future
For many of us, focusing on the future and what might happen is getting in the way of our optimism. Think about the future as something that is not only filled with positive events and occurrences, but also as something that we can make positive and productive with the actions we take today.
Recognize bad days will pass
When things do get tough, remind yourself that a bad moment will pass. They always do.
Try some affirmations
Try to find some positive statements you can read to yourself over and over as you are feeling pain. This will help you to refocus your thoughts on the positive and eventually, these affirmations will become your mantras which you will carry wherever you go. Some you can use include: I am strong and healthy. I am free from pain. My body feels great. I am powerful and relaxed.
Surround yourself with positive people
When you surround yourself with positive people, you not only have people to support you, but you will also find it much easier to keep your own spirits up. If you’re constantly surrounded by negative people, it can feel like an uphill battle to keep your optimism.
The key to being an optimist is to recognize that there is always another way to look at something in your life. Whether you have a negative thought pattern or a bad day of pain, you can change the way you think and the way you react to the situation.
When you have arthritis pain, there are a number of different things you can do in order to alleviate said pain. But one of the most effective methods of relieving pain is simply distracting yourself.
The mind is a powerful healing tool, one which many of us forget to use when our bodies are stiff and our joints are achy.
The moment you begin to feel pain, your brain focuses on it. Your attention becomes diverted to that part of the body and you begin to forget about all other things in your life – it’s no wonder the pain becomes so bad.
But while the brain can become hyper-focused on pain, it can be just as easily led to think about not being in pain. Here’s how.
One of the easiest ways to begin to drive yourself to distraction is to turn your focus onto something else. You might want to pop a movie into your DVD player or begin to watch your favorite TV program. When you do this, you can begin to focus on the characters and their lives, as opposed to your own. If you have regular bouts of pain each day, at more or less specific times, you might want to choose one daily program to watch in order to create a ritual of avoiding the pain you feel.
Whenever pain begins to hit, start doing something else. This might include anything from knitting to gardening, walking to shopping. Find something else that will occupy your time and your attention in a way that will distract you from the pain. It doesn’t really matter what you choose do as long as you react immediately to the pain to find something else to focus your attention on.
An easy way to distract yourself is to call someone else and begin to talk. Of course, within this conversation, try to avoid talking about your pain as that will only increase your chances of feeling more uncomfortable. Talk to a sibling, a parent, or a child to see what they’re doing and to begin to relax your body and your pain.
A traditional psychological technique is thought stopping. This can be practiced in a number of ways. You might want to simply say NO to yourself each time you have a thought about pain, for example. This will begin to teach your brain that pain and NO are associated, which will eventually teach your brain to not think of pain as often. Another way to go about this practice is to use a rubber band to snap on your wrist each time you begin to think about pain. That way, you stop your thoughts immediately and can change the way you think.
Redirection of thinking
Instead of thinking about your pain, you should try to think about the places in your body that do not hurt. This way, you are always focusing on what’s good about your body instead of what’s bad about it. While this does take practice, it’s just like changing your mindset to be optimistic. Over time, redirecting your thoughts becomes a habit.
Push positive words into your mind
Try to think about positive words and ideas whenever you begin to feel pain. These might be things like: fluffy cats, smiling, children playing, etc. The more you try to think of things that make you feel good, the easier it can be to avoid the things which make you feel bad.
Distracting yourself is one of the best ways to handle pain without the problems of side effects and without needing to call a doctor help you manage the steps of your actions.
With time and with practice, you can easily learn to change the way you think, avoiding pain thoughts altogether. This practice is akin to those who are in a terrible accident, but still have the ability to help others, even though they themselves are in pain. By teaching the brain to focus on something else, you can overcome your own pain or at least the severity of your arthritis symptoms.
While it seems contradictory to move around more when you’re in pain, this is one of the best ways to free your body from pain.
When you try to stay still during a bout of arthritis pain, your body can undergo a few physical changes which affect your experience of pain.
Your blood doesn’t circulate as much
You need your blood to circulate in order to bring warmth into the various parts of your body where you want to be able to move freely. When the blood isn’t moving, you can feel cold and even stiffer than you actually are.
If you choose to stay still as you are aching, you will begin to notice you aren’t able to move around as well as you once did. Your muscles tighten up and you might feel pain in a sharper way than you have in the past.
Your muscles weaken
When you make it a habit to sit around when you are suffering from arthritis pain, you will begin to lose muscle mass. This will lead to even more muscle weakness, which then perpetuates the cycle of pain, weakness, and stiffness. You need to stay strong in order to keep your body well supported.
You aren’t distracted
If you’re simply just sitting around, trying not to move, you will begin to focus on your pain and how it affects your life in a negative way. By moving around, you will allow yourself to be distracted from your pain, while also allowing yourself to be in motion, which has its own positive benefits.
No matter what kind of arthritis pain you have, there are exercises you can do in order to create a healthier body and a healthier experience of pain.
Some of the most popular exercises among arthritis sufferers include:
Water aerobics and swimming
Yoga and Tai ChiWeight training
Water aerobics and swimming are some of the best exercises for arthritis sufferers because not only are you going to be moving in warm, relaxing water, but the motions are also fluid and controlled, allowing you to move at your own pace. The water helps to reduce the impact on your joints, while also strengthening them and increasing your overall flexibility.
Walking, if your balance isn’t compromised, is another way to keep in shape as you are dealing with arthritis pain. Like swimming, this helps your larger joints in your hips and knees, and walking is simple to do just about anywhere.
You might simply want to spend time walking around the grocery store in your neighborhood or perhaps head to the local shopping mall to browse the stores to get moving more.
Biking is another low impact way to get more exercise in your life. By focusing on moving your joints instead of bouncing up and down on the ground, you can help improve flexibility and strength, even if you’re using a stationary bike and not heading out on the open road.
Tai Chi and Yoga are other relaxing ways to get more activity while also helping to improve your arthritis pain. By slowly moving your body into certain positions, you can allow your joints to release tension as well as help yourself to become more balanced and coordinated as you move during the rest of your day.
Ideally, you also want to include some sort of weight training exercise into your life as well. This will help to strengthen your muscles and make you feel steadier and sturdier as you perform everyday tasks. The stronger your muscles are, the more easily they can support your weaker muscles, helping to offset pain and tightness.
Your body was designed to be active, even when it is in pain. Of course, if you feel any shooting pains as you move, you will want to stop your activity and speak with your doctor.
While you’re already aware that heat is a great way to help soothe your arthritis aches, hot baths in particular are powerful ways to relax your body and unclench your joints.
There are a number of ways in which you can utilize your bath time to help your pain. Here are a few ‘recipes’ to help you get started.
Epsom salt bath
Using Epsom salt you can find in nearly any drugstore or pharmacy, take one cup of the salt and place it into a hot bath tub. Allow the salt to permeate the tub before you step in and begin to soak.
Sea salt bath
Using one cup of organic sea salt, you can follow the same procedure as the Epsom salt. Sea salt is often tolerated better by some patients as it is more balanced with the natural pH of the human body.
Aromatherapy is also considered a great way to help release tension from the body. Using 5 to 6 drops of lavender essential oil can bring a light and pleasant small to your bath tub, while also filling your senses with peace and tranquility. You can also add other essential oils to salt baths in order to get as much benefit as possible.
Just as chamomile tea can soothe your stomach and your nerves, this tea can also soothe your body. Place a few chamomile tea bags into the hot bath with you, allow the bags to steep for a few minutes, and then remove them before getting into the tub. This will help you to release tension from your muscles, while also bringing you a sensation of calm.
The bath is also a great time to practice a little more distraction from your pain with music.
Music has been used for centuries to help change the mood of the listener. While some people like to use loud music to wake them up, soft music is just as effective in helping your body calm down.
But in the end, it’s a matter of preference. You might find, however that using soft, soothing New Age type of music while you soak in the bath is a fantastic way to affect all of your senses at the same time.
When you are taking a hot bath, make sure to only be in the tub for 30 minutes or less as you can begin to lose the heat of the tub, which can then leave you cooler than when you got in. And then your muscles might tight up again in an effort to warm up.
Also, if you are on any medications, check with your doctor before sitting in the tub for extended bath times. Some medications (like those for high blood pressure) can cause you to feel lightheaded when mixed with hot tub temperatures.
As for the temperature your tub should be – as hot as you can stand it, but never enough to burn your skin or cause you pain.
Other ways to make the most of your tub time:
Use a bath pillow
When you support your neck with a rolled up towel behind your neck or a specially designed tub pillow, you will prevent your shoulders from tightening up as you lie in the tub.
If you have aromatherapy candles, like lavender or vanilla, lighting them around the tub and turning off the lights in the bathroom can sink you into another world of peaceful bliss.
Visualize your pain moving out of your body
When you’re in the rub, close your eyes and picture the pain moving out of your body and into the water. As the tub drains, think about the pain going down the drain and out of your life.
Regular hot baths can help you whenever you feel pain, but they can also be used to prevent pain from occurring in the first place. By keeping your mind and your body as relaxed as possible, you will find many more pain-free days on the horizon.