Self-Care Isn’t Easy With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Last updated: April 2023
Whenever I play the "if I had a million dollars" game in my head, I always have one thing at the top of my list - regular massage.
Dreaming of regular massages
Over the years, when I had some extra money, I would find a good massage therapist and get regular appointments, and one of them changed my foot. I went in walking on the side of my foot, and ten sessions later, I wasn't anymore. It wasn't a pain-free process. There were times when I was lying on the table clenching my fists while he was working, but when I would get off the mat, I felt much different the minute my feet hit the floor.
I've had other massage therapists use techniques to relax my whole body enough that sleep became possible after months of severe pain. My point isn't necessarily to talk about how great massage is (even though it is great!). My point is more that there are things that can really help us to combat the effects of ongoing swelling - like tendons that get displaced, muscles that atrophy, and joints that stop moving the way they should.
Keeping up with physical therapy
A few years ago, I went to physical therapy to rehab my broken hip. When I was there, the PT saw how twisted my ankle was - walking that way on my ankle will affect the hip - and she gave me an ankle exercise routine. Simple exercises like doing the alphabet with my foot and using theraband to strengthen it.
I diligently did my exercises and soon realized that my ankle wasn't as locked up. I wish I could report that I continued to be as good at doing them, but over time, I stopped. And I quickly noticed a change for the worse again until I was back to where I started.
Trying to find the perfect balance between RA and self-care
The see-saw that is life with arthritis, whether it is flares or function, can be so disappointing and make you feel helpless about your circumstances. You work so hard to get just a little better, and then, if you get distracted or just don't have the energy to do it all for a while, it seems like things quickly change for the worse again.
It can feel like an endless, pointless struggle. It isn't endless or pointless, though. It just is the way of life with RA. People with RA have to work harder to do basic things like move a joint fully and work extremely hard to stay in any kind of physical shape conditioning-wise. If I did all of my exercises on top of my daily routine, taking care of my RA could easily take over my life, and that isn't ideal either.
Doing the best I can
I could spend my days railing against my fate, or I could do the best that I can with what I have, basically playing the hand I was dealt as well as I can. So that's what I try to do, and some days I am better at it than others. I move my body in some way every day, and I do my exercises as much as I can on the days that I have the energy for the extra work. When my ankle starts to get really bad, I focus more on it. When I don't feel good, I do less, and when I have energy, I try not to only focus on my RA. I also use my energy to do things that bring me happiness.
If I had regular access to that imaginary massage therapist, I know my body would function in a much better way. But since I haven't found my million dollars, I try to remember that I can do small things every day to move the needle back towards walking and feeling better.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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