Saturday, February 12, 2011

Falling Apart at 40? Not So Fast!

Conventional wisdom holds that osteoarthritis is an "old person's" disease, you know, something your grandmother might have. It is also widely regarded as an unavoidable part of the aging process. But what if you have OA and you are not yet old (relatively speaking, of course)?

I was diagnosed with OA of the knee exactly one week after my fortieth birthday.  I've spent the last five years coping with chronic pain from cervical spondylosis, but my neck problems began after an injury, so even though I don't like it, at least I understand why it hurts. This knee pain really caught me off guard. I'm not overweight, and while I've always been active, I've never participated in a marathon, competitive gymnastics, or any other type of extreme sport that I imagine would prematurely wear out your joints.  I just woke up one morning and my knee was stiff and swollen. X-rays revealed significant OA, which surprised me, as I had never had any symptoms, or any discomfort. Less than two months later, my knee completely locked-up and I couldn't walk. I was promptly scheduled for arthroscopic surgery, and because the damage was so extensive (I had very little cartilage left), the surgeon performed  micro-fracture surgery which left me on crutches for almost three months. To add insult to injury - and I mean this literally -  at my final surgical check-up with my physician, when I asked whether I should avoid certain activities, because, as I said "I don't want to make it worse", his curt reply was "Oh, it's definitely going to get worse. I didn't even work on the bad side of your knee".

Say what?

Since being diagnosed with OA, I have spent many hours searching the internet - in vain, it seems - for, if not necessarily a cure, then at least some type of therapy that could slow the inevitable joint damage associated with this debilitating disease. The thing that struck me during my research is that the majority of information available on the web addresses arthritis care primarily as an aging issue. This makes sense, considering that arthritis is very common after age 65 and quite rare prior to age 40, but it's nonetheless frustrating. What about those of us who aren't quite old, don't need to lose weight, already eat well (most of the time!) and who are active and want to stay that way? Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!

This quest for better information was my main motivation for starting this blog. I know there are others out there like me who probably know a lot more than I do. My wish is to connect with and share ideas with my fellow active arthritis sufferers who want more than to merely cope: we want more details, more options, more opportunities.

Got some great tips for dealing with arthritis? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Self-Care: 5 Ways to Ease Arthritis Pain

When you have arthritis, some days are better than others. Your joint pain can be affected by any number of things: your activity level, the weather or even how well you rested the night before. Sometimes, the flares just come out of nowhere. Here are some suggestions I've found helpful for relieving arthritis pain.

1. Epsom Salt Soak: Magnesium sulfate, commonly known as Epsom Salt, can transform your daily bath into a therapeutic soak.  Magnesium is known as a relaxation mineral, and can be absorbed through the skin when added to bath water. For arthritis pain, a soak in a warm epsom salt bath can reduce inflammation, ease muscle cramps and relax stiff joints. Most directions suggest two cups of Epsom Salt for a bath, but I think it depends on how large your bath tub is. I am a huge fan of Epsom Salt soaks -for me, the longer, warmer and more salt, the better!

2. Ice: Ice reduces inflammation and is particularly useful when joints are painful or swollen. An ice pack placed on an inflamed joint reduces joint swelling, constricts blood vessels and numbs pain. Be sure to place a towel or cloth between the ice pack and your skin, and only use for 15-20 minutes at a time. Once skin has returned to it's normal temperature, you can reapply the ice.

3. Heat: A warm towel or heating pad can provide relief from arthritis pain. Heat improves circulation, relaxes muscles and loosens stiff joints. Apply heat for 15-20 at a time, and never fall asleep on a heating pad, as this could result in burns to the skin.

4. Rest:  Many arthritis sufferers experience fatigue. Adequate rest is absolutely necessary, starting with a good night's sleep. Listen to your body and take short rests during the day when needed.

5. Stretch: Avoiding exercise can contribute to joint stiffness and cause muscles to shorten and tighten, which results in greater pain. Range-of-motion exercises will keep joints flexible and help relax muscles and tendons. On days when your joints are aching, a gentle stretching routine or restorative yoga class can help relieve pain in tense muscles and stiff joints. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Got Arthritis? 5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Stay Active

1. Yoga improves balance.  People with arthritis often adopt subtly out-of-whack postures to protect injured joints, which can lead to more aches and pains and decreased strength in affected areas. (When my left knee is aching, I notice that my right hip often hurts worse than my knee by the end of the day.) Yoga promotes symmetry and proper alignment to avoid muscle imbalance.

2. Yoga increases flexibility.  Inactivity can cause muscles to shorten and tighten, which may cause joints to become further misaligned. Increased flexibility can result in better range of motion in your joints.

3. Yoga strengthens muscles. It's understandable that many people avoid exercising when their  joints hurt, but this unfortunately leads to decreased muscle strength, which in turn contributes to decreased joint motion and ultimately greater pain. Vicious cycle, eh? A gentle yoga practice can help you maintain and build muscle without adding undue stress to your joints. 

4. Yoga helps keep joints healthy. Range of motion exercises help "feed" cartilage by squeezing out old, stale fluid and allowing the joint to soak-up fresh, nutrient-rich fluid. You can't rebuild or regrow damaged cartilage, but you can help slow further deterioration.

5. Yoga improves posture.  Poor posture can lead to added stress on joints and muscles. A regular yoga practice helps you become more aware of your body positioning, and more mindful of maintaining proper posture.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    The Witching Hour

    For the past 24 hours, I've had up to 15 kids running in and out, and up and down and all through my house - and my youngest son wasn't even at home! Add to that commotion my poor little broke-leg dog, and the scene around here has teetered close to outright anarchy.

    I love my kids, and I want their friends to feel welcome at our house, so I tried hard not to completely freak out about the mess and the mayhem. I turned on some music to drown out the screaming and yelling, and distracted myself by baking brownies and making chili and cleaning up whatever they tracked in or spilled on the floor.  I was handling it all pretty well, somehow not letting the pandemonium get to me, until the dog threw-up. That was it. I chased the last few kids outside and put them on notice that Miss Amy's fun house is officially closed until tomorrow.

    It's a real challenge somedays to stay cool amid the chaos, especially when my arthritis pain flares up. My neck has been hurting since I woke this morning, and it has only gotten worse as the day has progressed. Dragging out the vacumn this evening didn't help any, but those pistachio shells and brownie crumbs weren't going to clean themselves.

    Now that the kitchen is clean and the laundry is folded, I think I'll treat myself to a nice hot bath. For a really long time.

    It's been a long day.

    Here's a "recipe" for a muscle-soothing bath soak. The friend who shared it with me calls it "Witches Brew". It's great after a massage.
    - 1 box Epsom salt (I say the more the better)
    - 1 box of baking soda
    - 1 bottle of the green rubbing alcohol

    I try to soak for at least 30 minutes. Or until the water gets cold, if I can swing it!

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Yoga Journal - Standing Forward Bend

    Yoga Journal - Standing Forward Bend

    Going Through The Motions

    We got a puppy for Christmas! Daisy is a delightful Australian Shepherd, and we are all crazy about her. (I mean, who can resist a puppy? I never could.) She is just about the sweetest dog ever, and I have big plans to train her to have impeccable house manners... if you knew my kids, you might think that is funny.

    Honestly, I will be happy if I can teach Daisy not to pee or poop in the house, and maybe a few basic commands. That's kind of as far as I got with the kids. I mean, can I really expect my dog to be better behaved than my children?

    I've been feeling pretty good about our progress so far. Daisy knows "sit" and "down", and the house-training is going well. Or so I thought, until a week ago. We got up early on a cold and dank morning, and went straight outside to take care of business.  I told Daisy to "go potty", and like the good girl she is, she immediately squatted. For about a half a second. I knew there was no way she had gone to the bathroom, so I said "go potty" again, and again, she squatted for a brief moment, and looked to me for a treat. Was she kidding me?

    I couldn't believe my sweet little puppy had tried to fake me out so she could get a puppy biscuit. Daisy was literally going through the motions and expecting a reward.  I was quite tickled by her cleverness, but it got me thinking about just how fruitless "going through the motions" can be for us humans. And since this blog is about dogs and yoga, I thought about - wait for it - how just going through the motions can negatively affect your yoga practice.

    I like a good challenge. I like to push myself, especially physically, and though I turned to yoga looking for a gentle, mindful practice to help with my neck pain, I can't help but aspire to the more challenging asanas like Pincha Mayurasana (feathered peacock pose) and Hanumanasana (monkey pose). I want to master the hard stuff.

    But Daisy's little stunt reminded me that I haven't even mastered the basics.

    I have a confession to make. I can't do Uttanasana - a forward bend. Not a pretty one, not a real one. My hamstrings are so tight, it was a personal triumph when I could actually bend over and touch my toes. But I cannot fold my body in half. And so I go through the motions. Since Uttanasana is most often part of a sun-salutation sequence, it's easy to hide the fact that I'm struggling with it. I just go with the flow, thankful when the class moves on to a pose that is easier for me.

    So I've decided to re-focus my efforts on building a strong foundation for my yoga practice. Instead of spending extra time at home to work on showy handstands and arm stands, I'm going to start from scratch with the basics, like Tadasana (mountain pose) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog), some yoga building blocks if you will. Because even the seemingly easiest yoga poses can build strength and improve balance and flexibility. What poses do you struggle with?

    Sunday, January 16, 2011


    Welcome to down-dog amy! This is my very first post, on my very first blog, and I appreciate you for coming to check it out.

    Visit this blog frequently to read and share information for coping with arthritis and chronic pain through yoga practice. I'll also share puppy training tips, and information on how pet ownership can help you live a fuller, healthier life.

    I am a 40-year-old mother of three very - um, how do I put this nicely? - "spirited" children! We have a lively household, and at times things veer into downright chaos! My greatest struggle in keeping up with my active family is that I suffer from severe arthritis in my neck, knee and hands. It's frustrating when your body won't let you do the things you want and need to do! Along with various other coping skills, I've found that yoga helps me deal with the pain, stay centered, and somewhat calm.

    Like a lot of folks, I took some time at the beginning of the new year to think about my goals, reflecting on things in my life that I'd like to change, things I'd like to try, and how to best take advantage of all of the opportunities available to me. You know, the dreaded New Year's resolutions -  Get fit, learn a new hobby, etc., etc. Unfortunately, this little exercise, instead of inspiring expectant optimism, caused my thoughts to turn dark as I began to think about all of the things that I can't do, and I indulged in a mini pity-party: a lot of my friends are participating in Marathon Makeover or Couch to 5k - well poor, poor me, I can't run. Maybe I could finally learn to play guitar and be a mommy rock-star? Oh, wait, my fingers hurt too bad. And so on, and so on. I had a excuse for everything, and pretty much decided that I would spend this next year wallowing in self-pity.

    Good thing that's not an option!

    So here's the new plan: recommit to a regular yoga practice, make time each day to update my blog, house-train our new puppy, and take care of myself when I don't feel good - without feeling guilty!
    What are your new year's resolutions?