What I Noticed Today: Music, Weeds, Mulch, and RA

With personal circumstances changing for so many people in the world these days, I suspect that we each may be noticing more things than ever that never caught our attention before. Or maybe you are rediscovering something you had forgotten about.

Although my rheumatoid arthritis was once deemed “moderate to severe,” I have been “near remission” for several years. I thank excellent medical care and access to highly effective treatment for that. I use the word remission to mean that my symptoms are under control; not entirely gone, just greatly managed.

RA symptoms that are under control

So as I was sitting here this morning enjoying my cup of coffee, listening to the birds, and reading the news, I looked down at my hands. I am very fortunate that at this moment there is no visible swelling. If you didn’t know what to look for, my hands appear to be quite normal and show very little sign of RA

Previous RA finger joint pain that interfered with my music

But many years ago, before diagnosis, I had a couple of finger joints on my left hand that were literally double their normal size. It was tremendously painful and debilitating. I wasn’t able to play my piano or french horn. The threat of losing my ability to play and teach music was terrifying. I still get a sick twinge in my stomach when I think about it.

Music and big joints

This morning I was comparing the joints at the base of my thumbs. The one on my right hand is larger than the corresponding joint on my left hand. It is one thing that, if you didn’t intimately know my hands, would make you think that RA was causing some swelling. But, thankfully, that’s not the case.

The largeness of that specific joint is the result of holding a french horn for an unknown number of thousands of hours over the course of 40 years. A typical french horn weighs about 5 to 6 pounds. The bulk of its weight is often balanced between the metacarpophalangeal joints of the thumb and index finger.

Those two little joints and the nearby bones get a workout when I play the horn. You’ve probably heard that weight-bearing exercise helps to build bones. Well, the same principle applies here such that those specific joints are larger on my right hand. This is perfectly normal for me and is not a sign of RA inflammation.

Pain from landscaping with fresh mulch

Over the weekend, Rob and I worked in the front yard. The job entailed pruning some way-to-wild-and-overgrown bushes as well as digging up weeds and ivy from under our massive blue spruce tree. I’ve wanted to clean up the area around this tree for years. I started feeling very bad for the tree when English ivy took over the pine-needle covered ground last year.

The work was grueling. It was hard. I stopped many times because my hands hurt. My wrists hurt. My knees hurt. My back hurt. My whole body yelled at me several times to STOP! But I wanted to get to a good finishing point before ending the day.

That stopping point would be after 5 bags of mulch were finally distributed under the spruce tree. I’m hoping that the mulch will at least slow down the growth of weeds and make the ivy more susceptible to yanking up in the future.

Hopefully, regular attention this summer on our part will help to keep the yard looking fresher and protect the tree from invasive growth. We’ve still got 11 more bags of mulch to distribute in the front landscaping. But that project may have to wait until next weekend.

Symptoms that sneak in while RA is in remission

What does landscaping have to do with RA? Well, probably not so much — unless you think about the strain on your body as you work in the yard — but here’s what came to mind this morning.

Weeds of RA nipped in the bud

If I think of my body as my front yard, there are parts of it that can get totally out of control, and quickly, if left unattended for a period of time. My hair for example. Without washing it every couple of days, it gets greasy, dirty, tangled, and so heavy that my scalp hurts. I imagine that the bushes that got a good pruning could have felt similarly neglected as they certainly looked a bit perked up.

And like weeds that creep into a garden, stiffness and lack of flexibility can sneak into your life almost without you realizing it, particularly when your RA is “under control.”

Now, please don’t lambast me or accuse me of disregarding the type of stiffness and pain that are very common and debilitating with RA. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about reduced flexibility that occurs when you don’t actually make a habit of moving your body and using your full range of motion.

Movement to help symptoms of stiffness and swelling

Even just a little bit of stretching (or just reaching) can lengthen muscles and loosen joints. When you regularly move your body, it can make movement more pleasurable. That, in turn, makes it much easier to notice when your RA stiffness and joint swelling begin to flare and cause problems. In my imagination, it’s somewhat like how I hope it will be easier to spot the rouge weeds as they try to enter the front flowerbeds and I will be able to do something about it without delay.

What are some things that you’ve noticed lately? I’d love to hear more about what puts you in a contemplative mood.

Thanks for reading!

Here are my other articles on RheumatoidArthritis.net.

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