Before I begin, to those of you who are are struggling with a physical illness or just interested in learning more about the word "heal", I highly suggest you pick up a copy of "Heal Your Body" by Louise Hay. It is a small, easy to read book that brings a fresh perspective on the mental causes for physical illness. Whether you believe in metaphysical ways to overcome illnesses or not, the power of the brain is real and we are just beginning to understand that we actually don't really understand how powerful this power is. I know this is sort of a twisted sentence, but let's leave it at that for now.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in a nutshell, is a chronic, progressive autoimmune inflammatory disease. RA typically affects joints symmetrically (most commonly the fingers, hands and feet) and is accompanied by pain, stiffness, swelling and fatigue. As well, in about 10% of people living with RA, systemic manifestations can occur in the skin, lung and heart. The rate of progression and life impact of this disease varies significantly from person to person. Some people may experience inconsistent aches and pains in their hands, where some may not be able to walk due to the extreme pain and stiffness in their feet.
So what can we do about this? The two main goals of treatment are to reduce the symptoms and to prevent long-term joint damage and functional disability. These goals are usually accomplished through a combination of medication and physical therapy. I can't speak so much for the medical part, but having a rheumatologist follow you along your journey can be very helpful in figuring out the right type and dose of medication for you.
What I can tell you about is the importance of regular exercise of the involved arthritic joints and that movement in general is essential for this disease. I know you may hear the words "exercise and movement" all the time, but knowing when, what type, for how long, etc etc may not be clear. You may also be worried about doing too much and making things worse. As a physiotherapist, my job is to help educate and answer these questions for you. Together we will design a progressive and personalized exercise program and also plan for periods of flare ups. My ultimate goal is to help you move more, feel better and improve your overall quality of life, while keeping in mind the specific disease process.
I would also like to bring to your attention two things that I find very interesting about RA:
1) Unlike other chronic pain conditions, RA symptoms have peaks and valleys. Periods of active disease, when inflammation, stiffness and pain peak aka "flare-ups" followed by symptom-free periods aka "remission" that can last days, weeks, months and sometimes even years.
2) Despite RA causing joint destruction, there is no correlation between the outer symptoms of pain, stiffness and swelling and the amount of joint damage/ changes found on x-rays. Meaning that, someone can present with severe joint damage on x-ray and have little pain, whereas someone with little destruction on x-ray can have intense pain.
Keeping the above 2 points in mind, I am going to long quote Louise Hay because she says it best. "I've learned that for every condition in our lives, there's a need for it. Otherwise, we wouldn't have it. The symptom is only an outer effect. We must go within to dissolve the mental cause. This is why willpower and discipline don't work. They're only battling the outer effect. It's like cutting down the weed instead of getting to the root out. So before you begin the New Thought Pattern Affirmations, work on the willingness to release the need... When the need is gone, the outer effect must die. No plant can live if the root is cut away."
For Rheumatoid Arthritis, the probable negative thinking/ mental cause is:
"Deep criticism of authority. Feeling very put upon."
The suggested New Thought Pattern Affirmation is:
"I am my own authority. I love and approve myself. Life is good."
Rheumatoid Arthritis is unusual because symptoms do not match imaging findings. So whether you "believe" in the power of replacing old thought patterns or not, just remember that you are your own authority, and what you do and think can make a difference in the outer symptoms.
If you need some help getting started, it would be my pleasure.
Galer, B. S., & Argoff, C. E. (2018). The most effective ways to defeat chronic pain now! New York: Crestline, an imprint of the Quarto Group.
Hay, L. L. (1987). You can heal your life. Santa Monica, CA: Hay House.
Metsios, G. S., & Kitas, G. D. (2018). Physical activity, exercise and rheumatoid arthritis: effectiveness, mechanisms and implementation. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology, 32(5), 669-682.