Perhaps the hardest part of having arthritis or a related condition is the pain that usually accompanies it. Managing and understanding that pain, and the impact it has on one’s life, is a big issue with most arthritis sufferers. The first step in managing arthritis pain is knowing which type of arthritis or condition you have, because that will help determine your treatment. Before learning different management techniques, however, it’s important to understand some concepts about pain.
No. 1: Not All Pain is Alike
Just as there are different types of arthritis, there are also different types of pain. Even your own pain may vary from day to day.
No. 2: The Purpose of Pain
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, or that you need to act. If you touch a hot stove, pain signals from your brain tell you to pull your hand away. This type of pain helps protect you. Chronic, long-lasting pain, like the kind that accompanies arthritis, is different. While it tells you that something is wrong, it often isn’t as easy to relieve.
No. 3: Causes of Pain
Arthritis pain is caused by several factors, such as (1) Inflammation, the process that causes the redness and swelling in your joints; (2) Damage to joint tissues, which results from the disease process or from stress, injury or pressure on the joints; (3) Fatigue resulting from the disease process, which can make pain worse and more difficult to bear; and (4) Depression or stress, which results from limited movement or no longer doing activities you enjoy.
No. 4: Pain Factors
Things such as stress, anxiety, depression or simply “overdoing it” can make pain worse. This often leads to a decrease in physical activity, causing further anxiety and depression, resulting in a downward spiral of ever-increasing pain.
No. 5: Different Reactions to Pain
People react differently to pain. Mentally, you can get caught in a cycle of pain, stress and depression, often resulting from the inability to perform certain functions, which makes managing pain and arthritis seem more difficult. Physically, pain increases the sensitivity of your nervous system and the severity of your arthritis. Emotional and social factors include your fears and anxieties about pain, previous experiences with pain, energy level, attitude about your condition and the way people around you react to pain.
No. 6: Managing Your Pain
Arthritis may limit some of the things you can do, but it doesn’t have to control your life. One way to reduce your pain is to build your life around wellness, not pain or sickness. This means taking positive action. Your mind plays an important role in how you feel pain and respond to illness.
Many people with arthritis have found that by learning and practicing pain management skills, they can reduce their pain. Thinking of pain as a signal to take positive action rather than an ordeal you have to endure can help you learn to manage your pain. You can counteract the downward spiral of pain by practicing relaxation techniques, regular massage, hot and cold packs, moderate exercise, and keeping a positive mental outlook. And humor always has a cathartic effect.
No. 7: Don’t focus on pain.
The amount of time you spend thinking about pain has a lot to do with how much discomfort you feel. People who dwell on their pain usually say their pain is worse than those who don’t dwell on it. One way to take your mind off pain is to distract yourself from pain. Focus on something outside your body, perhaps a hobby or something of personal interest, to take your mind off your discomfort.
No. 8: Think positively. What we say to ourselves often determines what we do and how we look at life. A positive outlook will get you feeling better about yourself, and help to take your mind off your pain. Conversely, a negative outlook sends messages to yourself that often lead to increased pain, or at least the feeling that the pain is worse. So, “in with the good, and out with the bad.”
Reinforce your positive attitude by rewarding yourself each time you think about or do something positive. Take more time for yourself. Talk to your doctor about additional ways to manage pain.
Bruce Bailey, Ph.D.