How to Cope With the Symptoms of OA
Most people can list the typical symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) with ease; however it’s a little harder to come up with effective coping mechanisms for management of these symptoms.
Before I jump into how I would suggest coping with the symptoms of osteoarthritis, I want define what I mean when I use the word “cope.” I understand coping to be the ability to manage a difficult entity or situation without the assumption that it will be mastered or go away in the near future.
I still struggle with the symptoms of osteoarthritis on a daily basis but I believe that with each passing year, I have learned how to live with osteoarthritis and how to cope with the disease better. With that clarification, the following are a few strategies I personally have learned or used to cope with each symptom caused by osteoarthritis.
If I were to create a hypothetical survey that asked all osteoarthritis suffers what the worst symptom of their disease is, I am willing to bet there would be one clear winner by a longshot. In fact, I am willing to describe this symptom as the Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan (sorry Lebron), and gold-medal winner of osteoarthritis symptoms.
What is it? You guessed it — PAIN.
In the chronic condition that is osteoarthritis, the pain is what hinders our quality of life the most. It is what prevents us from conducting our daily activities and enjoying our hobbies. Osteoarthritis pain is often assumed to simply be a deep, achy, or nagging sensation as advertised on television. But osteoarthritis can also cause pain that would be described as sharp, intense, severe, and burning in nature. Unfortunately, the chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis is also the most complex symptom and most difficult one to cope with.
I am going to purposefully keep my strategies to cope with pain fairly vague. This is because there is such a diverse array of therapies and the success of these remedies is so specific to the person, the severity of their condition, and the location of their osteoarthritis.
Know What Relieves the Symptom in the Short- and Long-Term
It is crucial to identify what therapies are helpful in the short and long-term. For example: my choice of pain relievers help to keep me functioning during acute flare-ups.
However, a core exercise program, stretching, and along with medical therapy helps relieve my symptoms in the long-term. Likely it will be through a lot of trial-and-error, but it is important for you to identify what provides you the best relief when you have a flare-up of pain versus pain relief on a normal day.
Proper identification and management of the short-term versus long-term pain regimen will likely involve the help of a healthcare professional that is aware of your condition.
Another way to stay ahead is to identify key stressors, whether they are physical or emotional, that exacerbate the pain.
Physical stress may include any specific movement or activity that exceeds your physical capabilities. I have learned over the years through a painful trial-and-error, which chores around the house and activities of daily living can flare-up my pain.
Although it’s not practical to simply avoid that activity forever, modifying the activity and taking precautions can be very helpful in preventing a flare-up of pain. Similar to physical stressors, emotional stress can aggravate your arthritic pain.
By identifying any potential patterns of these exacerbating factors, you can learn how to either avoid them altogether or be prepared for when they may bring the onset of pain.
If I were to go off that same hypothetical survey, I am again willing to bet that stiffness would get the silver medal in symptoms.
The way I try to describe it to people who don’t have osteoarthritis is: imagine waking up the morning after an intense workout and feeling various areas of your body actively resisting your every motion. Well that’s similar to how it feels to be stiff when you have arthritis, except it doesn’t ever go away. I have been plagued by stiffness ever since I developed arthritis in my spine and it is an important symptom to learn how to cope with.
Gentle Stretching and Movement
Believe me when I say this — stretching is a chore for me. Growing up, I was the guy who never stretched before practice or a game.
A stretching routine can be really tedious and monotonous, but also very important. Stretching helps, if only for a short period of time, loosen up the area surrounding the arthritic join.
From a practical standpoint, a stretching routine doesn’t need to consume an entire hour of your day. Even stretching for a few minutes at a time can be immensely helpful. If you are unsure of what stretches to do to help your joint, I would ask either your doctor or a trained physical therapist.