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How to Feel Good With Arthritis

 

Double Buff: On one of the world's great walks - Routeburn Track, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

On one of the world’s great walks – Routeburn Track, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

Arthritis is what you get when you’re old right?

I thought that too until could no longer strut and bend my musculoskeletal stuff like those kids in Fame due to excruciating pain in my spine. I was 17. Bye bye backflips. Hello crappy spine disease that I couldn’t even pronounce.

Anky What????

It’s called “Ankylosing Spondylitis”, which is a bit of a gob-full so it’s often shortened to “AS” or you can call it “Anky what?”-  Most people do.

Anky What? is a form of arthritis that primarily inflames the joints of the spine and the connective soft tissues. It’s systemic (whole body) so other joints, even the eyes and organs can get roped into the inflammatory fest too.

The culprit is a malfunctioning immune system, which means I put-put along misfiring off only three cylinders in general, but the real damage is done by the cycle of inflammatory attacks that can lead to bone fusion.

Does it hurt? ……hurrrrrrm do werewolves howl at the moon?

Speaking of which, Werewolves need to get a grip. Their pain only lasts a few minutes while they go through musculoskeletal change once every lunar cycle. It’s a well known fact among us Anky Whats that Werewolves are wusses.

Unlike dealing with werewolves, there is no silver-bullet answer to managing the pain from AS. But with some life adjustments, the right treatment and a support structure, I’ve got it under control.

Along with my medication prescribed by a Rheumatologist,  here’s what works best for me. (Please read my disclaimer first!) Each one is a notch down on the pain volume dial and they all worked together to help me get back on track, on top of a mountain and feeling good.

 

 

Kim Kardashian Free Zone

The fluffy duck look is big on the mountain circuit

 

Exercise is king for me 

It’s not enough to rely on medication. “Move it or loose it” was the first advice from my specialist. “Exercising is the single most important thing you can do to help yourself,” say National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society UK. I do strengthening, stretching, and aerobic fitness. Along with relieving the stiffness and pain, exercise also improves mood. I started out with small regular workouts and built my endurance slowly.

I eat a healthy balanced diet

According to Arthritis Research in a multitude of countries, there’s no convincing evidence that certain food groups make Ankylosing Spondylitis either better or worse. I find common sense works best here. I eat a balanced diet and to keep to a healthy weight – even people without chronic conditions can feel crap when they eat crap.  (Note to self: Drink less wine).  I try to include anti-inflammatory foods in my meals, which may assist in reducing the inflammatory burden on the body.

I get a good nights sleep

Sleep restores the body and fights fatigue, so don’t be a tight-ass when it comes to your mattress. Buy quality. Medium–firm with memory-foam topper works best for me. I got advice from my GP about “Sleep hygiene” and I never go to bed without my wheat bag that I can pop in the microwave if the pain kicks off during the night.

I avoid stress at all costs 

Research says stress and anxiety creates tighter muscles, which are known to exacerbate pain. I have regular massages and do a gentle form of Yoga – especially if I feel my chakras are getting in a twist.

Chairs are evil

Sitting exacerbates the pain. I take regular breaks from my work to stretch and go for short walks. My TV couch potato days are over.  Following the dramatics of Kim Kardashian’s failed relationships is not in my best interest. I find there is always a bright side to these things.

Changing the record

According to studies, concentrating my brain on the pain makes it feel worse, so I talk about the good stuff in my life because [fast forward the science stuff] the ‘feel good’ factor  produces a chemical in the brain that scientists believe helps to alleviate pain. In other words, swapping the conversation from bad back to mountain treks gives me a double whammy pain-reducing effect. See – I said pain three times in that paragraph and I’m staring to hurt. Doh! I just did it again. [slaps head].

Trekking to the Patagonian Icefield

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

 

I do what makes me feel good

It’s not all about running up hills and chasing endorphins. Science says anything that activates the reward centre in your brain such as music can do it. James Brown can make everyone feel good.

Woman listening dancing to music

And finally, I cut out the quackery

No thanks to  [insert latest fad / miracle cure / something that’s been grown by a monk on a Tibetan Plateau eaten and shat out by a unicorn]

I tried a ton of stuff and it did absolutely nothing except drain my bank account.

Barbed Bird

                     Quackery not welcome – Bog off. 

 

Tracey

Tracey

Journalist. Travel writer. Roughty-toughty adventurer. Also known as "The Trail Tart" Addicted to two-wheeled escapades and exploring on my mountain bike.
Tracey

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25 Responses to How to Feel Good With Arthritis

  1. Johanna at ZigaZag May 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I feel for you Tracey, and can hardly believe that you do so much amazing physical stuff. Your bike expeditions are a constant source of encouragement to me. I loved this piece, from the tips (which I think are useful for a vast cross section of people with chronic pain) to the way you wrote it. So funny in places that I was smiling at the computer. The picture of the barbed wire (along with its connotation) is ace – did you take it?
    Keep on rocking, girl!
    Johanna at ZigaZag recently posted..How to feel happy in 5 photosMy Profile

    • Tracey May 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      Hi Jo, I feel lucky that I somehow managed to find my mojo and what works well for me. It wasn’t always that way. Before I was diagnosed, I spent 12 long years being continually told there was nothing wrong. It was distressing to say the least. Once I was diagnosed, I got informed, back in control and grabbed life by the nuts.

      Having said that. I also know how scary it is for young people to be diagnosed with a lifelong painful condition and that they will feel anxious about the future. I hope my blog offers them some comfort on that score.

      I’m a bit extreme for the rheumatology dept if the truth be known, but I’ve spent years building up to this point and I’ve discovered life is a lotta fun outside the comfort zone.

      I got the photo from IStock – I think it cost $10 but I couldn’t resist it and was well worth it in this case I thought : )
      Tracey recently posted..Owwwwww….. How to Feel Good With ArthritisMy Profile

  2. Coralie May 20, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Hey Trace what a girl, just inspirational. I love your formula and although you say it’s individual to everyone in pain i reckon your pain management plan elements are pretty common for most people, what you think, what you do, what you feel, how your body moves, what you eat and choosing what you do are the essential elements. You spent a long time researching what YOU could do, and you choose the right options to lower your inflammatory condition.

    Go girl, we love you!

  3. ilsa May 20, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Wow! You are really inspiring. I need to follow your tips -get past the pain and into life and exercise. I dream of being able to hike in a rainforest one day. It all starts with small steps. Iyou are very inspiring. Thanks.

    • Tracey May 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      That’s right ilsa, you can get past it and follow your dreams. Rainforest is very accessible in Australia. The Daintree Rainforest in Tropical Far North Queensland Australia is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples and a big bumper bonus is that it butts up to the Great Barrier Reef. It doesn’t have to be hard “yakka” as we say in Oz. There is every level of accommodation and hikes for all abilities. All you need is a basic level of walking fitness. Good luck.
      Tracey recently posted..Owwwwww….. How to Feel Good With ArthritisMy Profile

  4. Anita Mac May 21, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    Love your attitude Tracey – you inspire me! My accident a number of years ago still wipes me out at times! I must stop letting it and keep up the adventures. It was amazing how the pain went away when I walked the Camino – but sitting at home, it can stop me in my tracks!

    And, BTW – Following the high drama of Kim Kardashian’s split ends, broken nails and failed relationships is not in anyone’s best interest.

    Love your outlook on life and that barbed wire shot – priceless!
    Anita Mac recently posted..Monday Morning Series: Kayak Certification at Meech LakeMy Profile

    • Tracey May 23, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      I didn’t know you had an accident Anita. So many people report persistent pain after they’ve had an accident or injury even when doctors have told them the injury has healed. It’s natural to want to stop but it seems keeping moving is best. Thanks for sharing your experience and what worked for you. Looks like we get our feel-good kicks in the same way. Let’s keep it up together.
      Tracey recently posted..Owwwwww….. How to Feel Good With ArthritisMy Profile

  5. sarah May 21, 2013 at 2:05 am #

    great blog Tracey! from a person with chronic pain-in the UK

  6. Graham J. Sharpe May 31, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Great advice and inspiring too. I write a lot and have discovered that running round the Ashdown Forest (near to where i live) is the perfect antidote to sitting for long periods.

    Your blogs should be on prescription 🙂

    If only they knew…Kim Kardashian’s split ends, broken nails and failed relationships neutralize endorphins.
    Graham J. Sharpe recently posted..Can you help?My Profile

  7. Chapps June 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Tracey, you are fantastic! I’m a big exercise fan, and have been that way my whole life. Of course, being in great shape and having AS can cause people to say things like ‘You don’t look sick’, even when it hurts to breathe.

    Your advice is spot-on, and I really appreciate you telling those ‘all natural remedies’ idiots where to get off. I’m so tired of those trolls.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences – best wishes from Los Angeles, CA!

  8. Tracey June 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Awwww, thanks a million. It means everything to me that my blog post reached a fellow ASer. I really appreciate your support and thanks for taking the time to comment….. I hope you come back again. Good on you for finding your mojo in exercise. Keep movin’ : D
    Tracey recently posted..Owwwwww….. How to Feel Good With ArthritisMy Profile

  9. E.Perez June 28, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    Thanks. I have been looking for something like this. Wonderful information.

  10. Paul April 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Such good advise Tracey! Love your positive attitude and how you manage your pain

  11. Name and link removed June 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    (The name of a product has been removed from this comment) Arthritic knee the question is interesting, I too will take part in discussion i know, that together we can come to a right answer

  12. jone lara July 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    These kinds of very good aid Tracey! Enjoy the positive frame of mind along with how we deal with the discomfort.

  13. James Hughes December 19, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Completely amazed after reading about your story it is really motivation for those people who are suffering from these kind of problems & avoiding exercise. Spinal problems are the major cause of back pain and it so bad for anyone. Exercise and stretching is as essential as medication. The courage you shown to fight with this problem “Hats Off to you”.

  14. Janos March 7, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

    Hi, Tracey,

    Just some practices I found to be useful in the war against AS:

    Acupuncture: Altough I’m a man of engineering, thus skeptic. I found acupuncture to be more or less useful in the active periods of inflammation. There is a special kind of acupuncture called cat gut embedding. In this method several acupunctural spots get stimulated by medical threads (those which are used for stich wounds and absorbe within 2 weeks). This way an acupunctural treatment lasts for 2 weeks, until the threads absorb. Though a bit painful, its quite effective.

    Kinesio tape: A good tool to support mucles tired by overwork because of bad posture. I only have some days of experience, but the first impressions are quite good. It need to be applied by a physicho-therpaist, but the method of application could be easily learned by anyone who could help you to properly apply.

    Drugs: I’m sure, you’ve already heard about biological therapies, like Humira (or Adalimumab) for example. So far, it was the best drug I was treated with by far. All the pills are only good for casual use as they may ruin your gastric mucosa in a long term. Have you tried to access Humira or similar through Medicare?

    I hope I could help,
    J

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