5 Ways to Feel More Like Yourself When You Have Psoriatic Arthritis
Being diagnosed with a chronic health condition can make you reevaluate your identity. Psoriatic arthritis is one of those health issues that can really change the way a person sees themselves. The inflammatory condition can affect both the skin and the joints, causing uncomfortable psoriasis plaques, as well joint swelling, stiffness, and pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. All of these changes can prompt an inner dialogue around the types of activities you may have to stop doing or alter to be more comfortable. And for people who tie specific hobbies to their identity, for example, runners, this can be a really hard thing to handle.
With time, you may be able to find ways to do what you love, or discover new things you enjoy doing, while managing your medical condition. Many people with psoriatic arthritis ultimately learn how to modify their favorite activities so that they can continue to do them, despite their diagnosis. Some of these modifications include utilizing assistive devices (like knee braces), while others are more of a mindset shift.
We talked with three people with psoriatic arthritis to learn how the condition has affected their lives and what they’ve done to feel more like themselves.
1. Try using assistive devices to help with physical activities.
When Jenny P., 27, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2019, she was running about 15 miles a week. “It was devastating because my pain got so bad that I had to stop running altogether for a while. I went from running regularly to limping and barely being able to walk for the first half of my day,” Jenny tells SELF. “It’s hard to explain the weight of the grief I felt with that loss, but running was something that was so important to me and integral to my happiness. It was a way to cope with the stress of work and life.”
Along with medication, Jenny credits a variety of assistive devices and tools with getting her back to running. “Running is so important to me, so it’s really amazing to have found products that work to support me so I can still do it in some way. I’m confident I would not be able to run without them,” she says.
She uses Mueller knee braces (which you can buy on Amazon for $15) that strap above and below the knee. “They apply pressure above and below my knee to keep the joint supported, which then allows me to run without pain,” Jenny says. She’s a nurse, and she found her compression socks at a nursing convention. “They apply compression to my calf and ankle, and that compression somehow eases the pressure on my hips and knees, which relieves pain.” (These Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks have great reviews and are available on Amazon, $16.)
Through trial and error, Jenny found shoes that allow her to run and stand comfortably at work. “I don’t remember how I found my shoes specifically, but I was trying to go running in other shoes and it was so painful. Then I found my Hokas and I was able to run farther and for longer without the pain I was experiencing before,” Jenny says. (The Hoka One One Clifton won a SELF Certified Sneaker Award and is available at Zappos for $130.)
2. Experiment with new types of exercise.
Jenny describes feeling trapped in her body when she was diagnosed, wondering if she would have to give up running forever. “I tried to modify my workouts, but I could never get that runner’s high feeling I loved so much. My joints made it really hard for me to get my heart rate up,” she says.
Eventually, Jenny’s fiancé suggested she try biking. “I was skeptical at first, but once I started riding I was able to get my heart rate up the way I wanted without putting too much stress on my joints! I almost cried after one bike ride, because I was just so happy to move the way I wanted again and without pain.” When running is too painful, Jenny turns to riding her bike. “My bike has allowed me to exist in a sort of middle space—when it hurts too much to run I know I can always bike.”
3. Know that everyday habits can be a form of activity.
“For the most part, I try to stay active a little bit each day,” Jennifer P., 37, tells SELF. Though it may seem counterintuitive, moving when you have arthritis is important for keeping your joints mobile and avoiding stiffness. Jennifer was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2008 and says that some days her body just does not want to get up and do anything. She recently bought a small under-desk bike pedal unit. “I can use it when I’m sitting at a desk, so I can still keep my joints moving.”
Julie C., 36, has been managing her psoriatic arthritis since 2012 and has found that cooking can be a form of activity when she’s in pain. After she started tracking her psoriatic arthritis triggers, Julie discovered that she experienced flares after eating certain foods. She loves to cook, so she looked at this as an opportunity to get creative with her meals and physical activity. “In altering my diet, I found new ways to cook. I find it therapeutic and fun to use new ingredients and try new recipes,” she tells SELF. Cooking gets her moving around the kitchen but is gentle on her body, Julie explains. “If I sit and do nothing, that actually can make me feel worse. So by trying to come up with a recipe with all the ingredients in my fridge, I’m not only helping my body and mind but also having fun,” she says.
4. Track and manage your triggers.
When she was officially diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis at 27, Julie thought she’d have to sacrifice her hobbies to manage her condition. “I thought having psoriatic arthritis meant that I couldn’t live a full life, and I wasn’t going to be able to continue to do the things I loved,” she says. Her whole perspective changed on a trip to Disney World, where she was cast in the American Idol Experience show, a singing competition for Disney park guests. It hit her that her diagnosis didn’t need to change what she did or who she was. She may have bad days, but that doesn’t mean she has a bad life. After this realization, she became committed to figuring out her triggers and learning how to manage them.
“I tracked everything I did—what I ate, who I interacted with, how I slept, how I felt, etc.—for six months. At the end of it, I had a clear picture of what impacted my symptoms and what didn’t,” she says. She used the data she collected to figure out how to manage her psoriatic arthritis, like eating foods that didn’t seem to cause flares. “Knowing my triggers and limitations allows me to live a full and amazing life and doesn’t hold me back! I was even able to get off of disability and back to a job I love advocating for patients,” she says.
5. Give yourself more time to get things done.
Jennifer says that she’s been able to keep up with most of the activities she enjoys by allowing herself more time to do them. For example, she loved going to amusement parks before the pandemic but would become extremely fatigued after walking around all day. Instead of cutting out this big part of her life, she consciously decided to just do things more slowly. Instead of racing through the park to get through all of her favorite rides, Julie decided to set aside more time for her amusement park days so she didn’t feel rushed. This allowed her to take breaks in between rides and go at her own pace. She also builds in extra time to get ready before leaving the house. “I hate to be late, but it takes me longer to get ready now. So I know I have to start getting ready earlier than I used to.”
Additionally, Jennifer says it’s helpful to communicate your needs with others. “I warned the people I go out with and told them it’s going to take longer for us to go places and do things because of this,” Jennifer says. “I don’t expect to be treated differently in general, but just ask that they give me some extra time.”
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