THROUGH THE LENS OF A PT
Arthritis doesn’t just take a physical toll on your body, it greatly affects your mental health too. Living in chronic pain is mentally exhausting but there are ways to manage arthritis pain through mindset work and techniques. Combining this with other lifestyle choices can make a big difference in your arthritis pain.
Arthritis isn’t only a condition of the joints. Joint pain, and over time decreased joint function, are the main symptoms people associate with arthritis but what doesn’t frequently get acknowledged is the emotional toll that arthritis is responsible for.
Regardless of what stage of arthritis you are in there is something that tends to happen mentally. Either you are trying to manage arthritis pain every day or you are worried about what your arthritis might have in store for you down the road. Both of these scenarios can be extremely mentally exhausting.
The common ways to manage arthritis pain through the use of pain medication, physical therapy, and sometimes joint replacement often aren’t enough to solve the problem… At least not on their own.
So what’s to be done? There’s a case to be made for helping to manage arthritis pain through mindset changes. If you haven’t tried any mindset strategies before, and you suffer from daily arthritis pain, they might be worth a try.
Your brain runs the show. It is the workaholic CEO of your body that’s engaged 24/7 to ensure that all your body functions are working optimally. Your brain is an organ in your body. Your mind is something altogether different. Your mind is made up of your thoughts and feelings, it's the essence of who you are. While the two of these, your mind and your brain, are separate, they are also interconnected in countless ways.
“The mind uses the brain, and the brain responds to the mind."
The really fascinating thing about the mind is how it can change the brain over time. We know that thoughts are very powerful when they are spoken, but they are just as powerful in your brain as out of it. You have the power to change how your brain operates, simply by changing your thoughts. This is a principle called neuroplasticity.
Thoughts are incredibly powerful and can be a great asset in learning to manage arthritis pain. By changing your patterns of thought, you can adjust the way you think about pain, and the way your body interprets pain. Fascinating right?
Pain is a complex thing. It’s not just the pain sensations traveling through your body that create pain. Many other factors determine how pain signals are received in the brain, because without the brain to interpret those signals… we wouldn’t be able to feel pain.
So it makes sense that you can use the powers of your mind (and your brain) for good, to help manage arthritis pain. It’s easy enough to say this but it also does take some mental work on your part. So let’s put your mind to work!
Journaling has so many benefits for mental health in general. Whether this is free-form journaling or working off of specific journal prompts, allowing yourself to get your thoughts out without judgment is very helpful.
One type of journaling that I really love for arthritis, though, is gratitude journaling. This is perhaps the easiest way to journal, and it’s so simple, you can check this task off while you wait for your morning tea to brew.
Simply write down three things that you are grateful for that day. Now, the best practice is to journal every day, to train your mind to look for the positive side of things. I suggest doing this in the morning, because then you start your day off on the right foot. Having your mind practice gratitude improves your worldview.
These things don’t have to be big picture things you're grateful for, and they don’t have to be different every day. Don’t set those rules for yourself, just get in there and do it.
By training your mind, through daily practice, to be grateful for what you have, you set your mind up to better manage arthritis pain. Even those days where you have pain, you are still grateful for things in your life, instead of being sucked into your pain. And you are better able to identify the things that you can still do, and be grateful for those.
If you don’t currently journal and you’d like to try my Daily Arthritis Journal, I’ve included a section for gratitude journaling there for ease of use. You can download that here.
Visualization has long been used by professional sports players as a tool to improve their performance. Remember how we talked about the brain and mind being very powerful? They are, in fact, so powerful, that simply thinking about completing an activity (for the basketball player this might be making a free throw, for you it might be making it up a flight of steps) activates the same area of your brain as actually doing that activity in real life.
To help manage arthritis pain with your mind, visualize yourself doing those activities that you currently dread. Visualize doing those activities with less or no pain. You have been conditioned to expect pain when you do those activities and so your brain expects that pain, only making it worse. You have to use your mind to create different pathways for your brain to take.
THE BIG PICTURE
Using your mindset to manage arthritis pain can be so helpful if you stay consistent. These are not one off techniques that will cut down on your pain medications overnight. These are lifestyle changes and habits to pick up that alter how you manage arthritis pain in the long term.
Chronic pain from arthritis, or any other number of conditions, changes the way your brain reacts to pain and, over time, increases how sensitive your brain is to those painful impulses. This is why people struggle with chronic pain for so long, because the pain itself, and the medications used to manage it, increase your pain over time.
Using all the tools that you have in your toolbox, and understanding how pain changes with time, can help you to understand and manage arthritis pain better.
Mindset isn’t the only way to achieve this though, dietary choices can also play a big part. I’ve shared my top anti-inflammatory foods here, so add these to your diet to help you manage arthritis pain as well.
It’s easy to get bogged down in your day to day arthritis pain. It’s important for you to know that there are alternative treatments and ways of thinking about your arthritis and your pain. You can learn to manage arthritis pain and improve your quality of life with integrative techniques.
If you’re curious to learn more, I’m currently creating a much needed course to cover just that topic. Jump on the waitlist for my Thriving with Osteoarthritis course to get all the updates and early access.
As always, stay strong, stay positive, and always be learning!
Not a Substitute for Medical Advice. The information provided in this blog, website, webinars, documents, audio, videos, and associated products is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Dr. Lowry provides training, educational, coaching and learning opportunities for her clients. Dr. Lowry and her clients are advised to seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider, dietician or other health care provider prior to starting or making a change in diet, exercise, lifestyle, medications or nutritional supplementation.
Welcome to the Thriving with Osteoarthritis blog! If you are in the physical therapy world, you have to LOVE educating others! Honestly, so much of taking care of people with all kinds of movement or dysfunction is making sure that they have enough knowledge to continue on without you. It's my job here to give you the knowledge that you need to understand your diagnosis, know what treatment options are available for you, and get tips on how to make your life easier living with OA!
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