In any autoimmune disease, especially one where the joints or muscles are involve, exercise is key to maintaining function, muscle mass, and can even help with pain and fatigue levels. However for most of us even if there is a desire and a drive to exercise, our bodies hold us back, and limit what we can do. This I have always found a bit ironic. That something that is advised and helpful (and natural=no meds), is one of the things that i is almost impossible to do.
So if we can we take up low impact and weight-bearing activity, such as cycling – probably on a stationary bike – or swimming. Many of us take up physio therapy, as we find it helpful, and more catered towards out needs.
I myself have found benefit in doing hydro-therapy. The warm water allows my muscles and joints to relax and stretch, and relieves some of the aches and pains. The water allows for low impact, and lowered weight-bearing, while still providing resistance and pressure.
In my session we do some weight-bearing exercises, strengthening (especially of the core muscles), and stretching. Usually helping to provide more motion in my joints. Once this has been done, floats are attached to me, and a float that is cushion shaped placed under my head. My hydro-therapist then begins to manipulate my joints. Moving them around, stretching and releasing muscles and joints.
While this is happening I am advised to indicate when it begins to be sore, or if she is stretching it too far. And in the beginning I did. Each time I felt more pain I told her, and she would stop or adjust. I soon realised though that this meant that she was really unable to stretch or release most things. Not surprising as I have pain most of the time, and a lot of my joints had seized up, and there was limited motion in them.
So with some adjustments in pain medications, and some improvement in pain, I was able to allow her to do more. But still it was minimal, and I left each time feeling like little had been changed. So I began to adjust. I started to judge how much pain I could take. Let her push it to the limits. Practiced deep breathing exercising and distracted myself while she manipulated my joints and muscles. This allowed her to stretch me properly, to get some real releases, and I finally started to see some results between sessions. Soon allowing my pain barriers to be pushed during these sessions was normal.
It was only during last session that it hit me, how much of an art, a calculation, a constant risk this was. I had to be right about how much I could be pushed, else I was left with more damage than good. This was brought to light during my session on Monday. While bending my body inwards, she commented on how well I was doing. I responded with a grimace like smile, which prompted her to ask if it (what she was doing was painful). I without thought said “of course it is painful, but I could deal with it”. I could see in her eyes that she realised what I was doing. That I was making myself push past the pain.
The rest of the sessions that saying, ‘no pain no gain’, was ringing in my ears. It is true, not all pain is bad for you, but you have to know the difference. This is what I had learnt, that some pain is just pain from stretching what is tight, from moving what is stiff. This pain is ok, for it allows you to move the barriers, to be more supple, to have more movement in your joints. Something that all of us are working towards, and dreaming of. But you have to be able to identify this pain from pain that comes when pushing it too far. Pain that is due to a muscle which is over stretched, or a joint that was pushed too far. That puts you backwards in your recovery, that does more harm than good. The kind of pain that lasts long after the session is done. That hangs around like a stray dog. This is the art that hydro-therapy has become.
This knowledge comes with an understanding of your body and your limits. It is one that develops with time, that is constantly changing. All I can say is that you know your body best. So trust in that knowledge. Trust in yourself to know your boundaries, and don’t be afraid to try to push them a bit.
What kind of exercise do you find beneficial?