The Weight of the World
The feeling of heaviness or weight on one’s joints is yet another enduring aspect of RA that we have to handle on a daily basis. Over the years this sensation, difficult to fully explain, has become even more of an ongoing problem for many of us.
For me, the discomfort is evident in the large weight bearing joints in particular, namely shoulders and hips and knees. Especially my shoulders. At this point, a day does not pass that my shoulders do not at least ache, often sharply, but never ending. It can feel like a hot poker is penetrating the joint or be a more widespread pain that penetrates from shoulder blade to elbow and all the muscles in between with a sense of heaviness.
This heaviness, at times, feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Literally. It is challenging to relax our shoulders when this sensation arrives. One aspect of this that is most troubling, is how it extends to other functions. For me, my entire neck and shoulder area becomes uncomfortable, tight, painful and heavy. It almost feels like I can hardly keep my head upright at times.
As is often the case with RA, there is often little or no warning of this pain. I can be just sitting and reading and without any warning my shoulders will begin to “simmer”, often leading to some pretty intense discomfort. Or, in some instances, activities I do may trigger this. It has taken me some time to sort this out, as it is not always the case. One example comes to mind. I know that I cannot carry bags of groceries dangling at my side, as that pulling sensation will immediately create a problem and within a very short time the shoulders will be “screaming”. That said, when my shoulders are not painful, there is a natural tendency to do everyday tasks that are a normal part of daily life. Despite having RA for 20+ years, I still get “caught” doing things I know I may well pay a price for later.
So, how then do we deal with this? Well, like many other aspects of RA, it is not simple or easy but with some forethought, we can work with this issue and alleviate some of the discomfort.
We must make wise and careful decisions when it comes to exerting the weight bearing joints. For me, that means I have to really consider any task or movement that stresses my shoulders. Yes, it is tedious. For that reason alone, I often skip that decision-making process, but when I do, I am almost always sorry. For example, when I am traveling, I try not to use a really large suitcase, opting instead for a couple of smaller ones, with 360 wheels, so I can push them and not have to drag them. Makes a huge difference. I also ask for help. I hate it, but I do it, however reluctantly. That simple piece of advice could save all of us a lot of pain and suffering!
Many experts recommend building strength in the muscles, tendons, etc. that surround our joints by doing what we can to enhance that. Makes perfect sense. For me, walking, Tai Chi and swimming fit the bill. I cannot do traditional strength training on land, but I do try to do them in the water with aqua weights. That said, even these, can trigger a flare and so the level of constant attention needed remains high. And when my shoulders (or hips or knees) are “shouting” at me, I simply put it on hold till the flare subsides.
We also need to resist being pushed to do things that we know, instinctively and from experience, will not have good outcomes. Very tough to do! When we are living active lives, working, etc. it is completely natural to do more than we should. I struggle with this, literally, every day. There are no shortcuts to handle this. We simply must be vigilant with ourselves, knowing that if we insist on carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, both literally and figuratively, the price may well be more than we are willing to pay!