I am prone to mysterious injuries. By that I mean aches, pains, swelling, and issues separate from (but certainly related to) my rheumatoid arthritis. This has been a problem ever since I can remember, but it continues to this day.
For example, my right ankle recently developed a new pain on the side and increased in swelling throughout the day. I don’t remember hurting it (though my husband Richard thinks he remembers me hitting it on something). The symptoms sound like RA, but they are new and feel different so I don’t think it is. My right ankle rarely ever swells — it is usually my other leg that regularly (sometimes on a daily basis) swells up. The pain is also different, like a soft tissue injury.
It has gradually been getting better over a few weeks, so I know that I am healing and my rheumatologist is not worried. But it is a funny thing and could be very inconvenient.
Does RA make us more prone to injuries?
Increased injuries risk
My experience is that my RA puts me at greater risk for injuries. I think it is a combination of having weaker bones, but also weaker soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments). My body cannot resist a bump or a twist because it is weaker. Additionally, it takes me longer to heal and recover. It’s also exacerbated by the fact that I cannot move as much as other people so my circulation is not as good for healing.
To compensate, I do try to be extra careful and mindful that a simple bit of clumsiness on my part can result in an injury that may take a while to heal. But I can’t not be human! I am going to get hurt now and then.
Maintaining strength through exercising
I have also been really focused on exercising in the last several years. My goals are to exercise every day, to vary my routine, and to challenge my body safely to build and maintain as much strength as I possibly can.
When I recently explained to a nurse that my exercise is usually at least an hour a day, she was shocked and a bit alarmed. She asked if I had checked this with my doctor (which I had). It may seem like a lot, but because I use a wheelchair it is actually not as much movement as I truly need. I just try to do as much as possible but have to cut back according to how my body feels at times.
Injuries from daily life activities
Of course, I also get injuries doing seemingly normal activities. Like I will bend my arm or lean on my elbow and it will suddenly feel slightly out of joint and hurt. It recovers, but it is painful and I know is a problem related to my RA-afflicted joints. The bones just don’t always stay in place or are inflamed by the erosion of the disease. For these unpredictable issues, I just have to be gentle with myself and be patient with the time it takes to heal and feel better.
Bruises can also fall into the mysterious injury category. I’ll often look at myself and wonder: “How in the world did I get that bruise?” I know it is also a side effect of the prednisone that I can bruise easier and they may last longer. But it also happens if I lean on a cabinet or bump my leg while walking, which seems to happen all the time.
When I was younger, I used to get more upset by my mysterious injuries, but I guess I’ve come to accept them as part of my RA experience. They seem innocuous compared to the trials and tribulations of surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation. As long as I try to be careful and stay patient while I heal, I can handle a few bumps in the road.
Have you shared tips on how to manage RA with anyone before?