Arthritis is what you get when you’re old right?
I thought that too until, at the tender age of 17, excruciating pain in spine stopped me from bending my musculoskeletal stuff like those kids in Fame. Bye bye backflips. Hello crappy spine disease that I couldn’t even pronounce.
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?
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 support, 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.
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].
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.
And finally, I cut out the quackery
No thanks to [insert latest fad / miracle cure / something that’s been specially selected by a unicorn]
I tried a ton of nonsense and it did absolutely nothing except drain my bank account.