I work in the preventive health sector. A few years back we would set up health camps to help people detect any health issues early, even before any symptoms started showing up. In one such camp, I met Vijayalakshmi.
Vijayalakshmi was in her 30’s. That day I saw her limping towards me, seeming visibly in pain. After I introduced myself and told her that I was a nurse, she started talking to me about her joint pain. She said she typically faced severe pain and stiffness in the morning and also immediately after a period of rest. She had decided to quietly bear this pain and had self-prescribed some pain relievers for herself, she hadn’t sought professional medical help assuming that joint pain is a normal part of growing older and that she had to live with it.
Would you agree with her? The fact is that it isn’t. Joint pain is a symptom; once the cause is identified, it can be addressed with help. This is important since pain is not only the experience of physically hurting, but also affects our day to day life and impacts our ability to fulfill our social roles.
Did you know – 15% of people in India suffer from joint pain/arthritis, there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis and it’s more common than many other chronic diseases like diabetes, etc. Usually, women are affected more than men.
What is Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Vijayalakshmi had a condition called Rheumatoid Arthritis which is a disorder that tends to affect smaller joints first like the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet. As the disease progresses, symptoms spread to the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, and hips. The symptoms may even come and go. Over time, RA can cause joints to shift out of place. It can also hurt other parts of your body, such as eyes, heart, and lungs.
Advance in understanding the disease has considerably helped people living with RA, but we do not have a cure. Early diagnosis and treatment could make the disease go into ‘remission’ which means that you still have the disease but will show no symptoms. Medication can also reduce inflammation of joints in order to relieve pain and prevent or slow down joint damage.
When should I see a Doctor or Rheumatologist
I agree we don’t always have to see a doctor for joint pain, at the same time we should not ignore the symptoms like persistent discomfort, swollen, tender or creaky joints, a sudden sharp shooting pain in the knee, shoulder or elbow. Remember, delay in reaching out to a doctor can lead to irreversible joint damage.
Is there any way to prevent it
The exact cause is still unknown and hence there is also no known way to prevent it. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with RA, there are ways to reduce the chance of developing severe joint damage.
- Don’t put off visiting a doctor especially a rheumatologist, if you are suffering from the above symptoms
- Don’t skip your medications on days when you’re feeling better, missing a dose could cause the pain to return, and it may be harder to get relief later
- If you start feeling good, don’t stop seeing your doctor – you need those regular checkups to keep your treatment on track
- Exercise is the only way to strengthen your joints, a physical therapist can help you to choose an exercise programme which is safe for you
- Rest plays an important role, you should rest during flare-ups to prevent further damage. So you need to balance between rest and exercise
- Find a friend you can talk to when you feel overwhelmed
- Discover new ways to divert your mind from the pain. Go for a walk or listen to music
- Try to not continually focus on your pains, actively work on your mindset and focus on things that make you happy. I have a friend with RA, who on those mornings when there is a flare-up in pain, distracts herself by taking extra efforts in getting dressed which makes her happy. What you do can be as simple as this.
Don’t let joint pain swamp your happy life!