After experiencing horrendous pain for a year, it was both a shock and a relief to be told my pain was in fact osteoarthritis. I finally had a name, but now what?
Since my late teens, I have been living with osteoarthritis in my ankle. It has gradually progressed in both severity and pain, leading to almost complete erosion of cartilage at the anterior aspect of my ankle, as well as affecting one of my ligaments, range of movement, and at times, my mood. I’m now in my early 20s, trying to navigate my way through the ‘prime of my life’, as I’m told, with arthritis and it has taken plenty of trial and errors for me to get into a rhythm that I am comfortable with. I still need to adapt my approach at times, and I’m still learning!
Here are my tips for living with arthritis:
- Follow the 4 P’s of Chronic Pain; problem solving, planning, prioritising and pacing: you may be familiar with these, but in case you’re not, the 4 P’s of Chronic Pain are essentially a list of things you can do to make managing your pain easier. Pacing, in particular, can be a really helpful way of structuring your days/weeks in a way that accommodates for the way you’re feeling.
- Hot or cold? For some people, using a heat pad or a hot water on the area of pain can be a helpful way to ease the pain. For others, using an ice pack (wrapped in cloth) can ‘numb’ the area for a while. However, it may not provide any relief. Try it and see how you feel.
- Planning: This point links to the 4 P’s of Chronic Pain, but planning out your day or week can also be useful. At the start of the week, I make a list of tasks; one catergory of tasks that must be completed that week, one category of tasks that do not necessarily need to be completed that week, but it would be preferable, and then one category of tasks that can wait. I then plot these into my weekly diary. I always make sure I plan some downtime as well, for example watching some TV or grabbing a coffee with a friend.
- Break bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if you have an assignment due in x amount of weeks, I will set myself mini deadlines, for example, to do a piece of research by a certain date, but I will also allow myself flexibility in case I experience a significant flare up or I feel unwell.
- Talk about how you feel. Whether this is with a friend, family member or a counsellor, talking about the way you are feeling is important.
- When experiencing a flare up, make self-care a priority.
- If you take medication, organise it in a way that works for you. There have been times where I’ve forgotten to take it and I’ve felt it!
- Surround yourself with supportive people. The support of people can be invaluable.
- Do things you love. Do you have a hobby that you love to do? Make sure you do it, even if it’s once in a while, or every week.
- Update your care team if anything changes: if your pain gets worse, make sure to let someone know.
- Praise yourself for the things you do: as human beings, we can be too harsh on ourselves, especially when we are not feeling too great about ourselves, which can come hand in hand with chronic pain. It can be hard to acknowledge what we have achieved in the day if we are experiencing a constant influx of pain. No activity is too small or ‘insignificant’ to be praised, and no effort is worth brushing off.
- Be cautious of alcohol. I have a fondness for pink gin, but I know that over indulging can lead to me feeling rather rotten the next day, and it can make my ankle swell.
Those are some of my tips for living with arthritis.