Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Easing Arthritis Symptoms

Most of my self-treatment of my psoriatic arthritis is aimed at improving the inner workings of my body, to improve it at the root rather than at the surface where it is seen or felt. This tactic has done wonders to improve both the psoriasis and the arthritis aspects of the condition.

However, there always remains some discomfort that needs to be treated where it is felt. For the skin this can be in the form of topical lotions, moisturisers etc. For the joints it may be the use of heating pads, infrared heating devices and similar methods, or the normal smelly arthritis rubs to deaden the pain.

The problem with this condition is that you might well have psoriasis on the skin in the same area that you have joint pain. If you apply one of the muscle and joint creams onto psoriasis lesions the result is likely to be intense pain and cause you to rush to the bathroom to wash off the cream. Been there, done that, felt the pain and got the T-shirt. It gives new meaning to the saying used in gyms that you should "feel the burn".

Aside from my daily consumption of glucosamine/condroitin/hyaluronic acid, I do something else to ease my joint deterioration, thereby attempting to keep my joints serviceable for many years to come.

I noticed years ago that my joints seemed to be wanting to always go to the bent position. I also noticed that the people with the worst arthritis conditions were bent over or had very bent joints. I did some research on it at the time but can't remember where I found the info that I wanted, which brought me to my conclusions. Wherever it was, it was enough to make me experiment by keeping my joints straight whenever possible. The result has been long-term easing of my arthritis symptoms, although ageing will probably eventually cause natural deterioration to start catching up again.

Observe your own habits and think about how they may be aggravating your arthritis symptoms. I noticed various that I will list below.

Hands. At rest my hands naturally go into the closed position of a loose fist. Look at most severely arthritic people and you will see that their fingers are curled like claws. Once they get to that stage it is very difficult to do even simple everyday tasks because your fingers will not do what you want them to do. I changed my resting and sleeping habits to remedy this. Instead of letting my hands rest as they naturally would, I lie them palm down against a flattish surface, like the bed, top of the settee or my thigh. In this position the fingers must straighten and to help them do this I spread them apart against the surface. Each time that I wake at night I put them back in those positions if they have moved. It did not take long before I would wake to find them still straight.

I also actively stretch my wrists and fingers regularly by pressing them hard against a wall or door frame, with fingers spread and arm at 90 degrees to the surface. This stretches the ligaments to help the joints stay straight. It is also very good for carpal tunnel syndrome, if you spend too much time at the keyboard.

Spine. In bed it can be very comfortable to be curled up in a ball, with legs pulled up toward your chest. This is not good for your spine, which will gradually grow into the curved shape and not want to straighten. I try to always sleep with my back straight or slightly arched backward. I find it particularly beneficial to arch my spine backward as far as I can for a few minutes immediately before I get out of bed. I will have less back pain when I stand up than if I don't do this.

Legs. Getting back to curling up in a ball in bed, this bends your hips at 90 degrees or more one way and your knees even more the other way. This will not help your hips or your knees. I found it best to sleep on my side with a small amount of angle, maybe 20-30 degrees, to my hips and knees. This stops me from falling over onto my back or stomach and is near enough to straight that my joints don't freeze into a bent position when I want to get up.

Sitting for long periods is bad for spine, hips and knees. All end up bent and may not want to straighten up later when you need to stand up. I try to limit the periods that I am sitting by standing up and walking around for awhile. Changing from a sit-down task like computer work to a stand-up task like filing documents for awhile helps big time. Doing some leg and back stretches when you change from the sitting to standing work also helps.

So, think about your posture habits and what you can do to improve them. Your joints will thank you by serving you longer and without shouting painfully at you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hotel Room Dangers

Today I was reading in Daily Health News what the four dirtiest surfaces are in an hotel room, aside from the obvious toilet and bathroom sink and floor. They turned out to be:-

  1. Main light switch
  2. TV remote control
  3. Bedside lamp switch
  4. Telephone keypad

I have never worried with cleanliness of hotel rooms unless they looked really gross. I grew up eating snails and all sorts of things that would petrify a mother in today's sterile world, so I have a strong immune system. Mine is an obviously unbalanced immune system, evidenced by my psoriasis, but I am generally pretty resistant to disease.

However, something struck a chord with me in that article. It was the statement that "exposure to any pathogens (germs that carry diseases) raises your risk for getting sick, especially if you are immunocompromised". Think about that statement; you are more likely to become sick if your immune system has been weakened by anything.

Remember that the biologic treatments for psoriasis and arthritis work on exactly that principle, they weaken your immune system. So, if you are on one of those wonder drugs, remember that this is the result and take
additional precautions when you are travelling.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More on back pain

When I first visited a new chiropractors office a few years ago, they did a very thorough check of my body, including many measurements and X-ray images. The results were very interesting.

1) I had lost a full 1.5" in height from my nearly 6' 3" when in my 20s to 40s.

2) My left hip was considerably higher than my right hip.

3) I had a slight lateral curve in my spine, no doubt linked inextricably with the two points above.

They also told me of the links between spine misalignments and particular conditions due to constriction of various nerves as they exit the spine in those misaligned areas. According to the chart, misalignment at the T12 vertebra can result in skin conditions. You can believe or not, to suit yourself. I believe that if one shuts out any idea then you are closing out a possible solution to a problem. I am happy to accept that my misalignment is possibly a contributor to my psoriasis, so I will do what I can to correct it.

Chiropractor visits are rather costly, so I set a limit on my treatment and now save it for when I have hurt myself beyond self-treatment. While going through that treatment I gave much thought to what may have caused my skewness.

I have an excellent memory of my childhood, going back to before I was 4 years old. I remember a very staid old great aunt telling me not to sit with one leg over the other because my body would grow up skew. Of course I didn't believe her. I remember her also telling me to sit with both feet flat on the ground. Why would I follow that advice either?

Now that I knew myself to be skew her advice from nearly 60 years ago came back to mind. I often sat with my left leg over my right knee. Tall and slim people do this, we wrap our long limbs around each other like vines. The result, a tilt of my left hip above the level of the right. I tried wrapping them the other way, with right over left. It was seriously uncomfortable, to the point that I could not do it for more than a few minutes at a time.

I thought further about my habits and realised that when I was standing around in shopping queues or for whatever reason, I invariably placed most of my weight on a straight left leg and relaxed my right leg. This habit also tilted my left hip above the right.

I resolved to reverse both of these habits and hoped that it was not too late to correct the problem. I persisted with crossing my legs the way that they did not want to go. I had to repeatedly catch myself sitting the other way and switch legs. It took about a year before I was comfortable sitting right over left but my hips have corrected enough for it to now be comfortable to sit either way. I now also sit with both feet flat on the ground whenever I remember. I try to stand straight, with my weight squarely spread on both feet.

I don't know yet how much I have straightened my hips and spine but they are more comfortable. Reinforced by the hanging from a bar that I described in my last post, my back is feeling much better than it has for a long long time. In the process, I hope that I have done some realignment of the important T12 vertebra and any others that could affect other aspects of my health.

If you are in the habit of sitting with one leg over the other and always the same way around, try switching legs. If you find it very uncomfortable then I guess that you are also skew and could benefit from changing legs to straighten yourself and possibly improve your psoriasis in the process.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back Pain and Ibuprofen

For someone with psoriatic arthritis, painful joints are just a part of life. We do what we can to cope, to extend the life of our joints and to reduce the aches and pains.

About the same time that I was diagnosed with psoriasis, I was also feeling awful pain in some of my joints and a serious reduction in mobility in my knees. I had not heard of any connection between psoriasis and arthritis (not that I had ever heard of psoriasis either) and did not even mention painful joints to the dermatologist.

I put my painful knees down to the fact that in my teens I had surfed many times in water that was below 10C (50F) without a wetsuit. I sometimes could not straighten my legs when standing up after catching a wave because my knees had seized. This was before short surboards, so we knelt on them and I had massive surf bumps on my knees and feet. When my knees started giving me problems 15-20 years later I naturally linked the two. During that intervening 15-20 years I had a click in my right knee at every step, so expected that knee to have limited life. Eventually it deteriorated to the point that I could no longer bend it past 45 degrees.

It was about that time that I first heard about glucosamine and condroitin, starting to supplement with that. It provided slow but steady improvement and I found that the formulations that included hyaluronic acid worked best for me. Over many years my joints improved so much that now, 25 years later, I can bend  my knees 180 degrees. I sometimes have some pain in my hips and I regularly have pain in my spine at about the level of my lower ribs.

I refuse to let either psoriasis or arthritis control my lifestyle, so I am a very active person, considering that I am now 63 years old. I surf whenever I can and I sail a very athletic dinghy that few guys much younger than me are happy to sail by themselves as I do.

Me on my Paper Jet dinghy. Billy Black photo

When we lived in South Africa and were surrounded by mountains, I took my dogs for long strenuous walks up the mountain at least 3 times a week. I sailed 4 trans-Atlantic races, including one in which I cracked a rib half-way through the race and immediately followed that with another trans-Atlantic race without any healing time between the two voyages. I know that I have been rather abusive to my body but on the whole it has tolerated me pretty well. I regularly strain it past what it likes and it tells me so in the form of muscle and joint pain.

Two years ago I was trying to free up the seized engine of a classic British sports car that I am rebuilding. I wrenched the muscles alongside my spine and the chiropractor ordered me into a back brace and not to surf or sail for a month. Not being one to take orders well, I was back to sailing and surfing 10 days later.

Since then I have built a large shed single-handed and done various other projects that involve heavy lifting. The current job is extending the wooden deck in our back garden. I have found that it is the heavy lifting that does the most damage. I know that I am guilty of pushing myself too hard at times but that is how I get things done.

A few weeks ago my back started giving me more pain than normal and I also started to feel intense pain running down one leg, which I figured to be my sciatic nerve being pinched by a herniated disk. The pain was excruciating, so I decided to fall back on ibuprofen for some relief. I did not want to do that because I found from very early on that ibuprofen affected my psoriasis very badly, and so it did this time too. However, I was in lots of pain and all that I wanted was to get more comfortable. I consider ibuprofen only as a short-term solution because of the bad side-effects so I seldom resort to it.

Within a day I was starting to itch and another day later I was starting to flake on my elbows and the other small patches of psoriasis that I have. The pain did reduce considerably and I was able to think more clearly again, so I started to rationalise what was causing the pain. I figured that I had done too many things that were compressing my spine and needed to do some things that would stretch it back toward where it should be. I also needed to dislodge that pinched sciatic nerve from wherever it was stuck and causing the worst pain.

In South Africa I had a trapeze bar that I would hang from by my knees, upside-down. I would do that for 15-20 minutes a day, to good effect. I have not set up a trapeze bar in our current home but last week I tried a different solution. I bought a basic exercise bar that hooks onto a standard door frame. I hooked that onto the frame of one of the spare bedrooms, where it can stay as long as we don't have guests. Almost every time that I walk past that door the bar catches my eye and reminds me to stop for a few seconds and hang from it.

The benefit was almost immediate. I hang from the bar with my arms bent at 90 degrees and pull up my legs at 90 degrees, with my knees bent. While hanging like that I turn my legs to left and right a few times, twisting at the waist. Within one day the sciatic pain had completely disappeared. I still have the normal arthritis ache in my spine but that is bearable and I hope that it will also reduce as the hanging stretches my spine back to its proper length and allows the disks to decompress. I expect this to reduce the friction between adjacent vertebrae for long-term benefit.

I will keep at this tactic and see how much benefit I get from it. The initial response encourages me to make myself a new trapeze bar so that I can hang upside down again. I expect that will be of more benefit for lower back pain than the exercise bar.

The main aims of this post are to encourage you to stretch your spine if you have back pain of any kind and also to stay away from ibuprofen as a long term solution. My skin took a few days to return to its previous state after I stopped the ibuprofen.

I will continue to use it as a short-term pain solution, which will probably be each time that I do something that is both physical and incredibly stupid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Psoriasis Blog Award

Today I received an email to tell me that my Psoriasis Spot blog has been selected by Healthline as one of the Top 10 Psoriasis Blogs for 2012.

I know that what I say in my blog is sometimes going to be at odds with what the medical profession says about psoriasis but I speak from my heart and from years of living and coping with a condition that can sometimes be very uncomfortable. I speak from experience and not from a platform that is influenced by the vested interest of drug suppliers. I have to live with any decisions that I take about my lifestyle and anything toxic that I put into my body.

I took responsibility for my own health many years ago, when I realised that my own vested interest in my personal health far outweighs the conflicting vested interests of some practitioners in the medical profession or those who simply follow outdated text books or have a closed mind to alternative treatments.

I don't ask you to do what I do, I ask only that you try the methods that have proven positive for me. If I can help just a few other people to better health then the work that has gone into blogging is well worth the effort.

Thank you to  Healthline for including my blog in their list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition

Those of you who read this blog are aware that I am big on eating properly. I believe strongly that the root of many diseases and unhealthy conditions is in the bad eating habits of most of us. For some people this is a matter of necessity, due to the circumstances in which they live. This may be due to poverty or tight finances or it may be that food for a better diet is simply not available where they live. For others it might be too much reliance on convenience foods rather than cooking from fresh.

I recently came across a blog about nutrition, more particularly a post about countries around the world that have a problem with inadequate nutrition. Whenever this subject is discussed we expect it to be about the poor people of Bangladesh, Africa or other under-developed or developing parts of the world. Believe it or not, some of those people are probably eating more healthy diets than many people in more affluent countries.

Anyway, when I looked at that list of countries with poor nutrition, I was surprised to see that it included the United States of America. Take a look for yourself at this article on countries that have nutrition problems.

This is the opinion of the authors rather than the result of scientific research but the more that I think about it the more I believe that it holds a large helping of truth. If you live in the USA (or any country that has adopted the American lifestyle and diet) then think about your eating habits and how you go about preparing your meals. If you rely more than occasionally on TV meals, take-outs and canned food then you are undoubtedly putting plenty of unhealthy food into your body and you may be part of the nutrition crisis. The same applies if you drink lots of sodas; they seriously affect how your body handles the foods that you eat along with those drinks.

The modern world has us all under massive time pressure but some of it is self-inflicted. We don't have enough time available to cook a healthy meal from fresh produce, so we spend time in the drive-through of our favourite fast food franchise on the way home from work instead. After we have wolfed down that meal too fast for healthy digestion we will spend an hour on Facebook or email or playing on-line computer games with people far away, some of whom we will never meet. Is it more important to feed yourself and your family properly in the interests of long-term health or to exchange pleasantries with people on the other side of the world? It is important to maintain good contact with friends and family far away but modern communications has changed that contact from a monthly or annual telephone call or letter to daily chats about much of little importance. We have overdone the contact and need to step back a bit to take care of other important things in life.

I have found over the years that my psoriasis becomes worse any time that I let my nutrition slip. When I look after my nutrition my skin is almost clear, with no more than a square inch or two of psoriasis to be found. It has been that way for the past 18 months since I decided to be more diligent with my eating habits.

If you and psoriasis are at war constantly, please look at your diet. Fast food and sodas may be a big part of your problem. Change your outlook on cooking. Take time out to enjoy preparing a healthy meal from scratch.

If you are a woman you probably think that I am only a man and don't know what I am talking about because I don't cook. Wrong!! Yes, I am a mere man but I do most of the cooking in our home. I do this precisely because my wife likes to take the easy route and pull a box from the freezer. I prefer to eat healthy so I took over the cooking and watched the psoriasis fading from my body, as you can do as well.