How One Pilates Instructor Manages Arthritis Pain
Updated: Jan 4
When the coronavirus hit North Carolina, I transitioned all of my Pilates classes to a virtual format. Instead of watching my clients and talking them through exercises, suddenly I was doing every exercise along with them. I went from doing Pilates for three hours each week to seven hours or more. It's no surprise that the osteoarthritis in my CMC joint, where the thumb joins the wrist, flared like a bad temper. Not able (and not wanting) to go into Duke University Hospital to see my occupational therapist, I started tackling the pain at home. Below are some of the things that have helped me manage the pain and continue my active lifestyle. Please note: this article doesn't constitute medical advice. I encourage you to see your doctor or physical therapist for help managing any arthritis symptoms you are experiencing.
If you know anything about me, you know that I love to cook. When first diagnosed with arthritis, I read a lot about the connection between diet and inflammation - for arthritis is an inflammatory condition. I already ate a gluten-free diet, but my doctor suggested I reduce sugar as much as possible. While this may not seem like a fun suggestion, I felt it was worth a try. Avoiding dessert and sugary drinks was pretty easy, and I decided to embrace dark chocolate, which I eat every day now. My favorite (affordable) dark chocolate bar is The Dark Chocolate Lover's Bar from Trader Joe's. It's cheap, easily available and dark without being bitter.
If you want to take an extra step in avoiding foods, you could try not eating nightshades for a few weeks to see if it makes any difference. Nightshades are a family of fruits and vegetables that can be problematic for people with inflammation, even in small quantities. A complete list of edible nightshades would number in the hundreds, but the most frequently consumed ones are white potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers (including cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika), and eggplant. A thorough explanation of these plants and how they can effect arthritis sufferers can be found on Dr. Sarah Ballantyne's website.
Now you might be wondering how you're going to make tasty meals and add some zest to your recipes without these ingredients. The good news is that "warming" spices are generally beneficial to those with inflammation, including cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric and cloves. And fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, rosemary, dill, mint and oregano are all easy to grow and delicious. Food 52 lets you search recipes by specific ingredients, then narrow down the results by type of dish, so you can search "cinnamon" on their recipe page, then filter the results by "entree" to get dinner ideas.
Gloves and Splints
My ongoing goal in managing arthritis is to reduce the pain and inflammation while staying as active as possible. Support gloves and splints go a long way to allowing me to do just that. I've found the following three products to be the most useful; I wear each of these gloves every day for different activities.
For exercise, I've recently started using an ergonomic support glove from WAGS. You can see these in action in the photo above and on my social media posts. These gloves contain a gel pad over the palm that cushions the wrist in exercises like plank, push-ups and side stretches. The gloves won't make your arthritis go away, but they can reduce the pain or stiffness that comes after exercise or overuse. I like the WAGS Pro Fitness Gloves.
I also have a North Coast Comfort Cool Splint (shown above) that places and holds the thumb in a healthy position, thereby increasing joint stability, while also applying gentle compression to reduce pain and inflammation. The splint allows some finger mobility, so I use these for household tasks that I know cause discomfort, like hanging and folding laundry. You could also wear these for kitchen tasks, as they are washable.
I'll admit the first time an occupational therapist recommended compression gloves (shown above), I wanted to roll my eyes and say, As if I'm going to wear something that looks like that! The reality is that compression gloves are great for sleeping. Compression is known to increase circulation, which in turn improves healing. I wear these gloves to bed and wake up with hands that are less achy and stiff, and have greater range of motion. It's not an exaggeration to say I feel like I have a better grip on my morning coffee after sleeping with these gloves! And they're affordable at about $10 for one. I like the tipless-finger, wrist-length ones from North Coast. They're machine-washable and putting them in the dryer will re-shrink them for continued compression.
Heat and Massage
Heat, like compression, is known to increase circulation and can be very soothing for arthritic joints. I love the moist heat provided by these microwavable therapy gloves. Massage has a similar effect on the circulation, but it doesn't always feel good right away - sometimes it can feel pretty tender while you're doing it! I love the MobiPoint Massage Ball from TriggerPoint. It measures two inches in diameter and is great for massaging hands, forearms and feet. This stainless steel massage tool can help you (or someone you trust) get into the muscles of your palm and help open (flatten) the palm by massaging from the base of the hand toward the fingers. Use cocoa butter or a product like free-up massage cream with the tool.
Arthritis pain comes and goes, but it's pretty safe to say that managing it will be an ongoing endeavor. I hope these tips and tricks will bring you some relief. For more information, consult the Arthritis Foundation or visit your own doctor. I hope to see you on the mat!