The Pain Cycle

Rheumatoid Arthritis traps us in a cycle of pain.  I am sure that if you are an RA sufferer then you will be able to identify with this diagram. Pain is not only an unwelcome intruder but it has the ability to take us down a road that we never expected…Pain demands our full attention and while we are busy trying to deal with and lessen the pain, the wheel starts turning and over the days, weeks, months and years, we arrive at a place we don’t want to be.  Understanding the pain cycle is crucial to coping with the disease.  PAIN causes you to GUARD/PROTECT your joints.  Inactivity leads to MUSCLE SPASM & INFLAMMATION which results in RESTRICTED MOBILITY.  The less you move, the weaker you become and MUSCLE WEAKNESS takes over which leads to LOSS OF NORMAL FUNCTION.  At this point you begin to experience ANGER, FRUSTRATION & HELPLESSNESS.  Stress leads to even more PAIN and you are well and truly IN the pain cycle.

Over the years I have learnt various ways of breaking the pain cycle.  Knowledge is power and learning about the condition and understanding what is happening helps enormously.  Together with your Rheumatologist you need to work out a plan of action specifically tailored to your needs.  This is not a disease you can cope with on your own. Medication is key to breaking the pain cycle but today I want to focus on EXERCISE as a way to help break the pain cycle.

I have personally experienced the pain cycle for the past 32 years.  A year ago I found myself struggling to function not only because of joint restrictions and pain but muscle weakness was hampering my daily activities. I was trying to live a ‘normal’ life with one ‘good’ arm and one ‘good’ leg! After 7 hip operations on my right leg my muscles were in very poor condition.  I had my left shoulder replaced 20 years ago.  The joint is perfectly new but of no use to me as the muscle weakness in my arm was so severe that I could not raise my hand to touch my face.  I have been trying to exercise in my pool for many years but I have realized that when you have RA you need PROFESSIONAL HELP.  I have joined numerous ‘exercise classes’ over the years to no avail.  We just don’t ‘fit in’ with regular people and it is well-nigh impossible to keep up with able-bodied people.  I believe that one-on-one personal training is the way to go.  I once joined a Pilates class and left crying because I could not get down onto the mats like everyone else!  I have joined gyms but the average personal trainer has little to no understanding of the reality of RA and in their enthusiasm it is very easy to overdo exercises by over-estimating your ability and under-estimating your pain – resulting in painful flare-ups and depression from yet another failure. In recent years I stuck to water exercise but even there I was misguided.  I equated movement with exercise with little or no consideration to my posture and mind. No matter how hard I tried I struggled to make progress.

RA is not only a disease that affects your joints but your muscles as well.  I have found that many doctors focus on the JOINTS and in general the state of our MUSCLES is often ignored. Orthopaedic surgeons can REPLACE JOINTS but STRENGTHENING MUSCLES is not that easy. More attention needs to be given to our muscles.  For years I have been saying to my husband, “I need a Muscleologist!

I am pleased to say that I have been delivered from mindless exercise.  In tomorrow’s blog I will share my amazing discovery and journey…

Take care!