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.