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Friday, June 10, 2011

The many "tools" of RA

     I have discovered over the years, that there are a lot, and I mean a gazillion, "tools" to assist those of us with RA.   By tools I mean items like braces, ointments, supplements, etc.     
     How to sort though them all to decide what will work for you is a real challenge.  I still find it overwhelming to sift through all of it and make a sensible and smart purchase.  I confess that I still "order" or purchase something that ends up being totally useless once it arrives and I have the chance to use it!  I say that so that you don't feel guilty about those mistakes.  We all make them and will continue to occasionally do so no matter the amount of time you have RA.  Why is that?  Well, because there are good marketers out there for one thing...and for every good device or product on the market there are probably over a hundred "snake oil" products and salesmen ready to pounce on the vulnerable.  Plus, as folks who are in pain and looking for answers and solutions, we naturally are the target audience!  
     So, thing I would do is whenever possible talk to someone who has tried the item to see what they think.  How long have they had it and did it do what was advertised?  Would they recommend it and why? Another idea is if you are ordering online, often there are "customer review" sections where you can see what folks think about a product...because even if it works for someone else it may not meet your needs so be sure to know why you want it and what the purpose is.  
     Next, if you can sample a product or try it out before purchasing go for it!  Then you will know for certain if it is a good idea. Another suggestion is to find out what the return policy is so that you have that option as well.  If your budget is tight, this may be very helpful.  
     Another important suggestion is to find out what your insurance might may surprise you to find out that braces or supplements like glucosamine or calcium are covered and even if they are not totally paid for by insurance you may be able to use your HSA (Health Savings Account) funds for them if you have a RX from you physician.    
     Research is critical in everything you do in the management of RA and your "tool box" is no exception.  The Arthritis Today magazine and online support as well as many other reliable sources can be relied upon to offer critical assessments as to the value of many items.  For instance Arthritis Today has an annual insert that reviews the use of supplements and their value to RA patients.  This is a priceless source of information!  Taking the time to really consider the use of an item often leads us to "think again" and maybe step back which not only saves you frustration but also saves you money to put to a better use down the road.  
     Ask your rheumatologist at your next visit when you are considering a supplement, device, etc.  I once was planning to purchase a brace that I thought would be great for my elbow but my doctor informed me it would actually create a problem all its own so I ditched that idea.  Plus, my doctor has great suggestions when I press him about things I might do or purchase.  
     So, what do I like?  Well, I am a big believer in relieving pain in ways other than traditional pain killers.  Not because I am opposed to medication but rather because I take so much now just to handle the RA that if I can find another solution that works I am all for that!  So, I use several things.  First, neoprene braces, sleeves, etc. work great for me and I use them for knees, wrists, ankles, elbows, you name it.  They keep the joints warm, supported and the compression feels good.  I also love the various hand and wrist gloves and wraps that are out there.  The fingerless ones are great because you can still type and do other things while your fingers are warm and comfy!  Wrist splints are really helpful and there are lots of kinds that each offer different levels of support and so I have several and depending on the severity of the discomfort, inflammation and swelling I decide which one to use.  
     I also love the stick versions of capsaicin to apply (like a deodorant stick) because if you get it on you hands and then touch your eye - holy crap does that sting!  This stuff is great to roll on to your painful joint.  Then, I spray on the pain free  menthol products and lastly I apply a lidocaine patch to the joint....this trifecta approach works really well for me!  It works especially well on the big joints like shoulders and hips for which there are no really comfortable neoprene braces that I know of.  
     There are some home remedies that have actually worked for me as well.  One is to take rice and put it in a long cotton tube sock and microwave it...time varies depending on the wattage.  Then wrap that around the joint and the warm, moist heat feels amazing!  I liberally use heating pads and ice packs and there is no formula for which one works when!  There are times when I love the heat and times when the ice works best for relieving pain.  I will say that after I exercise, I ice my knees because I know that I need to cool them down and prevent swelling.
    Immersing your hands in a paraffin wax bath like the ones used for manicures and pedicures are amazingly effective and provide not only warmth to your hands and feet but it makes them soft and smooth too!  A nice side benefit.
     The right pillows and bed are crucial "tools" for getting the proper sleep.  We purchased a tempurpedic bed and pillows several years ago and they have literally changed my ability to sleep longer than an hour without having to get up and move my joints!  There are many memory foam beds on the market these days so if they interest you be sure to get a good one as they are an expensive, but solid investment.  Most stores offer a 30-60 day trial so take advantage of that before you make such a big purchase.  I could not be happier with it!  The same goes for pillows.  It has taken me years to find the one that works best!  Sadly we have many pillows in my house that did not work and are now in the spare rooms. Speaking of sleep I discovered a great little item about a year ago for my knees.  I tend to sleep on my side and so my knees rest on one another...not a good thing for many people (my husband has this problem too) as it causes pain in the knees that lasts well into the next day.  Anyway, there are knee sleeves on the market that pull right up over your knee like a neoprene brace only there is a pad on the side.  You put it on one knee and the other knee nestles right in the pad and SHAZAM- no pain!  You can find these online anywhere and I got one for myself and my husband for about $10 each and it works great and is machine washable so don't pay a lot for one!
        Supplements are an interesting subject and there are books galore for you to read on this topic.  Once again because I am not inclined to put any more chemical additives in my body than I have to, I limit myself to a few.  Glucosamine/Chondroitin for overall joint health, calcium to prevent osteoporosis, folic acid to prevent mouth sores and hair loss thanks to the methotrexate I take, flaxseed for hearth health and eye dryness, and a really good multi- vitamin for women over 50 and I am all set.  Again, research this area and be certain that you consult you physician as they need to know what you are taking!  There are interactions between various supplements/vitamins and medications so you MUST inform your medical team!
     I consider the management of the stress that so often triggers and accompanies RA to be crucial.  Tools that I recommend include massage, hot tubs and guided imagery or meditation.  These have proven to work very well for me and I cannot imagine how I would handle stress without turning to these very important tools.  You will find that what works for you may be quite different but be open minded about how to incorporate relaxation techniques into your arsenal of weapons against RA!
     So in the final analysis, researching and taking your time in making the right decisions once again is the hallmark of managing your RA!  Hope your day is pain free and joyful.

1 comment:

deb aka murphthesurf said...

Great ideas! I am going to research the neoprene braces you mentioned. And the only added thought I can say is...don't be afraid to return something. I try to buy from local retailers for this very reason as you are soooo right...alot of the stuff just doesn't work out. Recently I had this wonderful can opener that unfortunately my hubby broke. He bought me another model but that one didn't cut the was returned. I save alot of money this way and not just on ra stuff either...on everything! Just be sure to save your receipt as it makes the return alot easier.