Facing the Challenges of Arthritis

As the occupational therapy supervisor at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital and the mother of a son with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I am familiar with how arthritis can affect patients in all area of their lives. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and each presents differently and often requires pharmacological intervention, weight loss and/or changes in lifestyle or activity levels. 

Controlling inflammation and avoiding joint damage is critical. Combating stiffness through consistent activity such as walking, yoga, stretching or any activity that involves getting up and moving is a key factor in joint health, pain reduction and quality of life. Acupuncture, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, heat and cold therapies all have been identified for their benefits to combat pain and depression. Occupational and physical therapy can help you address inflammation issues and control joint damage.

Our family had to have some tough discussions about life choices and what the future may hold with my son. He ultimately had to decide (and will have to decide in the future) which sports and activities his body can handle. Some activities, such as swimming and piano, will help ease pain and stiffness. Other activities, such as running, cross country and lacrosse, may exacerbate his symptoms, and he will have to learn how to address those problems and determine his limits.

Adults and children with arthritis need to learn how to take care of themselves to stay active and healthy. Attending a summer camp designed for kids with arthritis last summer was an unexpected blessing for my son’s emotional state. He learned that most kids who are suffering with arthritis look just like him, are making lifestyle choices, have fears and concerns about their futures and are happy and active kids, doing what kids like to do!  He is giving himself weekly injections, staying active, doing well in school, monitoring his symptoms and has a great attitude.

Paying attention to the warning signs that our bodies give us and balancing all aspects of life – levels of stress, amount of rest and physical activity, diet, cognitive challenges, etc. – help keep us healthy and well-rounded individuals. Learning to achieve this balance is especially important in the lives of those challenged with arthritis.

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