It’s hard to believe that this fall marks the beginning of my sixteenth year of living with arthritis. Of course, it wasn’t until 2010 that I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis – we’ve gone between psoriatic and seronegative rheumatoid, but the gist of the semantics is inflammatory autoimmune arthritis – and we don’t know when and how it became arthritis; additionally, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2011. But that’s all a story for another blog post.
This blog post is about the non-medication ways I use to manage my arthritis. I strongly believe that chronic illnesses like arthritis are best managed with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. That’s not to say that medications alone won’t or will work; I wouldn’t be able to do these lifestyle changes if it wasn’t for my medications giving me the biggest leg up on my arthritis and fibromyalgia.
As a reminder, I am sharing what worked for me; this does not mean that it will work for everyone. I do not have any medical training other than living with chronic illnesses and pain for 15+ years. I know more than the average patient who has just been diagnosed because I’ve seen at least 30 medical professionals in my life (roughly; probably closer to 50) in a variety of specialties. The changes that worked for me will not work for every arthritis patient out there, or every chronic pain patient, because every patient is different. But these are the lifestyle changes that have helped me, and I believe in sharing my story.
Diet – A year after I was diagnosed, first chiropractor in Maine suggested that I cut out gluten and dairy to see if my arthritis was affected by eating it. The way this worked, I didn’t eat any gluten or dairy for 3 weeks. And then I went to a Red Sox game and had a pretzel, fried dough, and ice cream and discovered that my immune system really hates gluten and dairy. I went through this again last year with corn, soy, and egg – although testing those foods was more organized and intentional after a suggestion from a homeopathic doctor I saw – and found out that these also anger my immune system. For me, when I eat them, my immune system attacks my joints. If you have an autoimmune disease, you might also check out the autoimmune paleo diet, at the very least to see if it’s something that can help you.
Exercise – Newton’s first law of physics says that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion; this can be applied to your joints, too. If you want your joints to become completely stiff and unusable, never moving them is the perfect way to do it. If you want your joints and your muscles to remain as strong as possible, you need to keep using them. The trick is to use them the right way. I make an effort to walk a certain amount every day (dogs are the perfect way to make that happen). I do at least a small amount of yoga every day. In general, I do what I can to make sure the muscles in my body are able to help my joints work well and to protect them from themselves.
Delicate Balance of Activity – There are a lot of people who would argue with me on this, but I strongly believe that one of the keys to successfully managing arthritis is a delicate balance of activity without doing too much of it. I firmly believe that there are limits and that, if I push them, I will suffer.
Sleeping – I don’t know for sure if this is the arthritis or the fibromyalgia (or maybe it’s the anemia of chronic inflammation/disease), but if I don’t sleep at least 8 hours, my pain is higher. If I get less than 4 hours, I really shouldn’t bother trying to do anything because my body will not allow me to pretend that everything is fine.The lifestyle changes I made for my rheumatoid arthritis Click To Tweet
Alternative Doctors and Treatments – As I said before, every patient is different, both in terms of how they manage their disease and what works for them. For some people, alternative treatments do nothing, and for others it’s the main way they want to treat their disease. I’m using “alternative treatment” as a wide term here; it could be massage therapy, essential oils, acupuncture, chiropractic care (my personal fav), etc. Find what works for you, and understand that what works for someone else might not work for you.
And, by the way, that goes for everyone who likes to tell a chronic illness patient what they should do for their health – and yes, I’m aware that I’m being a bit hypocritical here. You need to understand that works for one patient won’t work for another. Every patient is different. And just because someone says they have rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia or some other condition does not mean that they want you to tell them how they should manage their condition. Everyone is different, and there are few things out there worse for a chronic illness patient for someone without a medical degree to launch into an argument about how they should manage their disease.