What Is Self-Management?
Simply put, self-management of arthritis is what you do to manage your disease. Self-management may well be the most important aspect of your arthritis management because it is directed by the single most important person to your health and well-being: you.
To some people, the importance of self-management comes as a surprise. After all, people with arthritis likely have several professionals already involved in their care -- a rheumatologist, a physical or occupational therapist and a pharmacist, for example – and all of them are important. Though each of these people is an important member of your health care team, they spend a limited amount of time with you. None of them knows you as well as you know yourself. Because arthritis affects everyone differently, it’s up to you to learn and practice what best helps you.
Part of self-management involves not only understanding and following the treatment prescribed by your doctor and other healthcare providers, but it also involves making lifestyle choices and acknowledging and addressing both the physical and emotional effects of arthritis. Self-management encompasses the choices you make each day to live well and stay healthy.
The Arthritis Self-Management Program helps people to develop self-management skills that work for them and their lifestyle, while gaining the confidence to carry them out.
Just like arthritis affects everyone differently, self-management is different for each person. Components of self-management may include the following:
Techniques to deal with problems such as pain and fatigue. As almost everyone with arthritis is painfully aware, pain isn’t always relieved by medications alone. Self-management involves learning non-medical pain management techniques that work for you and practicing them when pain relief needs a boost. Similarly, fatigue is a common problem that can be caused by the underlying disease process or the stress of living day to day with the pain and limitations of a chronic disease. Learning and using techniques to manage fatigue are key to living well with arthritis.
Exercise. Though it might seem counterintuitive when you’re in pain, exercise is something you can do for yourself that can have an important impact on your arthritis and your health. Exercise can help in many ways. It strengthens muscles that support your painful joints, preserves and increases joint range of motion, improves sleep quality, boosts your mood and sense of well-being and helps you lose excess pounds that add stress to painful joints.
Healthy eating. While there is no specific diet for arthritis, eating healthfully is crucial to being healthy. Plus, when combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet helps you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and alleviate pressure from the lower extremities, helping to ease pain in the knees hips and feet. Research shows that for people who are overweight, losing even a modest amount of weight can reduce the pain of knee OA significantly.
Effective communication. Whether you’re discussing your symptoms or treatment options with your doctor or explaining to your spouse or child why you need their help with simple tasks, effective communication is essential to managing your arthritis and your life. Effective self-managers reach out when they need it.
Making informed treatment decisions. Your doctor can and will recommend treatments, but the decision to pursue a particular treatment plan and follow it consistently is ultimately up to you. For that reason, it is important to know as much about a treatment as you can before you start it. Depending on how complicated the treatment is, you may learn all you need to know by speaking with your doctor or reading the product label. For other treatments – such as infusions or surgery – you may want to research the treatment online or even speak with other people who have had it.
Improving sleep. Arthritis pain can interfere with sleep. Loss of sleep can, in turn, worsen arthritis pain and fatigue. If pain makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep, practice techniques to promote sleep. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet, and avoid caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evening. Wind down before bedtime with a warm bath or by practicing relaxation techniques. If you still have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor if a change in medication or the timing of medication may help.