Coping with Arthritis
What is Arthritis?
Before anything else, it is important to tackle the basics of the condition. Arthritis takes its name from “arthron” which is Greek for “joint” and “itis” the Latin word for “inflammation”. In the simplest sense, arthritis is a condition where the joints are inflamed, causing pain and other symptoms.
Arthritis is technically not just a single disease but rather a collective term that can cover more than 100 different conditions. The most common of these include osteoarthritis (OA), which affects mainly the elderly. The other forms (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis) can occur at different ages.
Who Does It Affect?
Because the disease is very much common and widespread, it isn’t surprising that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding this condition. Some people believe that it’s nothing more than a case of getting minor aches and pains that go along with getting older. The truth is, as mentioned earlier, arthritis is a family of 100+ complex musculoskeletal disorders that affect not only the elderly, but people of all ages, genders and races.
Two-thirds of patients diagnosed with the condition are under the age of 65 and 300,000 of them are kids. In America, millions of individuals have the disease, 36 million of which are Caucasians, over 4.6 million are African-American and 2.9 million are Hispanic.
How Does it Affect the Patient?
There is no single way that arthritis affects people. Depending on the specific type of arthritis, a person can be affected in varying durations and severity. Patients will have pain-free days and days which are almost intolerable. The most common symptoms of the disease include fatigue, pain, stiffness and discomfort especially in the joint areas.
It is common for a person with arthritis to feel frustrated and depressed when the symptoms prohibit him/her from doing regular, day-to-day activities that were previously done without difficulty. Gripping things is often particularly difficult. However, it is important to remember that this is not reason enough to give up an active lifestyle. You will find that it is possible to keep living life to the fullest with a number of lifestyle modifications and changes in the way you work.
What Happens with Work and Raising a Family?
There is no question that every day life is much more difficult with arthritis. It is much more challenging and, at times, it can get exhausting and depressing. But with today’s advancements in medicine, the collective effort of different therapies and treatment modalities will help improve the quality of life – especially compared to not getting any medical help or therapy at all. We cannot stress how important it is for patients with the disease to seek the help of medical professionals. It is true that there is still no cure for the condition, but with proper treatment, patients are better able to manage the symptoms and minimize the pain and discomfort.
Many patients wish to – and actually do – keep on working after their diagnosis. With the right techniques and the assistance of medical professionals including an occupational therapist, the idea of getting back to your old job isn’t as hard as you might think.
But living with the disease isn’t just about taking your meds and going to therapy and modifying your physical activity. It also means a lot of changes and a huge impact on your life, especially to those patients who have a family. People with arthritis, particularly those who are parents, need to keep in mind that it is important to make sure that they’re around for their kids long term than to be the most active mom or dad ever. Pacing yourself is very important and prioritizing activities and chores will be something you’ll have to become proficient in doing. With the right scheduling of tasks, you will be surprised with all that you’re able to achieve. The most important thing, of course, is open and transparent communication with family members about the disease and how it affects you.
This coming Mother’s Day (or even better: every day!), if you have a mom with arthritis, let her know that you understand what she’s going through by helping her out even more than you normally do. On her special day, give her her favorite treats and a whole day of not having to work around the house. You can even treat her to a pampering foot scrub and soak to top it off! At the end of the day, the support and understanding that one can get from family and friends will be worth more than a month’s dose of medication and physical therapy.
How Can You Manage Arthritis?
There is no one clear-cut answer to this question, since there are different disorders and diseases under the arthritis cloud. The right way to manage the disease mostly depends on the present symptoms and the type of arthritis one is suffering from. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Educate yourself. The most that you can learn about the disease will make managing the symptoms easier. For patients with OA, the right understanding of the disease may even help slow the progression of the condition – or even prevent it from happening at all. Understand why pain occurs to know which steps to take to manage it. Learning more about the disease will give you a wider window into the array of treatment options (surgery, medication, therapy, alternative medicine, and so on). Understanding the symptoms will give you a better idea on how to to work in spite of them, making daily activities a lot easier and tolerable.
- Keep an active lifestyle. It may be ironic when you first think about it, since movement can sometimes exacerbate joint pain and discomfort but the right forms of exercise can actually benefit you greatly. Managing your weight to the ideal range with physical activity can reduce the stiffness of the joints and even minimize pain. Activities as simple as walking daily can make a huge difference. Many patients do their own routines to fit their comfort level, while some join programs to keep things interesting. Exercising with others diagnosed with arthritis can help motivate you to stick to a program which can be very useful. Keeping yourself motivated to keep fit and have an active lifestyle is tough, even for those without arthritis.
- Protect your joints. Remember that the joints are primarily the target areas of the disease. Whether you are exercising or gardening or just going about your day doing your chores, always make sure that you treat your joints right – otherwise you might exert added trauma to them which can only worsen the problem. Wearing proper support like compression stockings and knee pads can help a lot as well. Adequate stretching before and after exercising, eating healthy and getting the right amount of rest will also keep your joints happy.
Charities That Support Arthritis Research
There are tons of organizations, clubs and charities that are all about supporting patients diagnosed with different forms of arthritis. Some of these raise awareness about the condition, some provide medical help through medications and therapy, while some generate funding to pursue advanced research in order to finally find the cure for the disease. In the US, there are a lot of organizations supporting this field of research. Two of the top charities that benefit arthritis research are the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF) and the Arthritis Foundation.
Arthritis National Research Foundation
Ranked as the top charity to watch by Charity Navigator for this year, the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF) has been in operation for over four decades. Its main goal is to fund research designed to education the public on the causes, preventive measures, new treatment modalities for the different types of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis, and lupus) and various autoimmune conditions.
The ANRF gives research and medical grants to medical and PhD scientists at the country’s major research institutes and universities. The grants, ranging from one to two years’ duration, give these young scientists the opportunity to make important discoveries in this field of study as well as to take valuable research to the next level, where it can then further be supported and possibly continued by larger national agencies.
The Arthritis Foundation is committed to raising awareness and reducing the unwanted effects and impact of the disease. It strongly believes that arthritis must be taken as seriously as other grave and chronic diseases known today. The organization is working on eradicating the condition through continued education, research, outreach programs, and patient advocacy, among other programs and services. The foundation aims to reduce the number of patients suffering from the disease by 20% by the year 2030. In fact, its vision statement foresees a world that is totally free from arthritis and/or any arthritis-related physical discomfort and limitations.
Coping with the disease is definitely no walk in the park, but with the right education, effort, dedication, and support from family and friends, arthritis patients can improve their quality of life and maintain their careers and family responsibilities. Whether you are the patient or the loved one of the patient, arming yourself with vital information about the disease can create a huge difference in making life more comfortable and tolerable.
We still have a long way to go, that’s for sure, but thanks to many institutions and charities, we’re on our way there – no matter how far or difficult it is. Someday, we will find the cure to eliminate this disease. For now, we have to learn how to manage the disease’s symptoms and limitations in the best that we can. Life should not stop with arthritis – instead, it should help to make us realize the important things in life even more.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.