Learning you have a chronic condition can inspire a host of emotions. It’s common to experience depression and even anger that your body has betrayed you this way. You may also have numerous questions. How will this affect your daily life? How will you manage your condition? Can you still enjoy the same activities?
May is Arthritis Awareness Month and the CDC and Arthritis Foundation are working to raise awareness of the impact this disease has on people of all ages. Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions, with over 54 million Americans living with the disease. It’s also the leading cause of disability in the United States.
In this post, we describe tactics for managing symptoms and a Medicare program that seeks to help beneficiaries living with chronic conditions.
You Have Arthritis. Now What?
When you first receive a diagnosis, it can feel overwhelming. Part of that feeling is based on a lack of knowledge, which contributes to a feeling of helplessness. You can fight that by taking the time to research your condition.
Start by talking to your doctor. You want to know what kind of arthritis you have. There are over 100 diseases that affect the joints, the most common being osteoarthritis. But, they don’t all have the same symptoms or respond to the same treatments. In addition, ask your doctor whether any of your joints are damaged and for advice on managing pain. If you notice a difference in your pain levels, tell your doctor.
Managing Arthritis Symptoms
The most common symptom with arthritis is joint pain. However, there can also be a level of depression, which may be related to the pain but also to an inability to perform activities you once enjoyed. The following can help you manage your symptoms.
Be Physically Active
One of the most important things you can do to manage your symptoms is to remain (or become) physically active. Your goal should be 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity (assuming your doctor approves). A walking program is a great start, but you can also try swimming, low-impact aerobics, and biking. Look at range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and strength training, as well. Your goal is to strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints.
Avoid high-impact, repetitive activities, which may damage the joints. This includes jumping, running, tennis, and high-impact aerobics. If you aren’t sure where to begin, the CDC recommends a variety of physical activity programs designed for people with arthritis.
Treat Mind and Body
You can help manage negative thoughts and feelings as well as arthritis pain. Relaxation exercises are highly effective at reducing both stress and pain. Consider yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, journal writing, time in nature, or any other activity that helps you relax.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is also a powerful tool that combines behavior modification with talk therapy to help break destructive cycles, including recurrent negative thoughts around your diagnosis.
Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage are effective at relieving pain. Medicare does not cover these treatments, but some Medicare Advantage plans do. You can also try hot and cold therapy. Try heating pads or hot baths and showers for temporary pain relief. Limit heating pad use to 20 minutes. After exercising, applying an ice pack to sore muscles helps reduce inflammation.
If you feel that negative thoughts are taking over, try to distract yourself with other activities. A walk or other type of moderate exercise is a great option, since it gives you a shot of endorphins, your brain’s happy hormone.
Medications to Manage Pain
There are a variety of over-the-counter medications available to help manage pain. Aspirin (acetaminophen) is popular for pain relief but ibuprofen is better at reducing inflammation. Your doctor may have a recommendation. You may also try topical ointments applied directly to the painful joint. These offer immediate pain relief coupled with a more focused approach. In other words, instead of a medication traveling throughout your body, it’s applied only to the painful area. You may also combine topical treatments with oral pain medications.
If you find you’re relying on pain medication too much, talk to your doctor. You don’t want to over-medicate but you also don’t want to ignore your pain. It’s entirely possible that your condition requires daily medication.
Finally, talk to your doctor about depression. It’s relatively common in people who have arthritis and many depression therapies help reduce both the symptoms of depression and arthritis pain.
Chronic Care Management Services
Medicare offers chronic care management services to Part B beneficiaries who have two or more serious chronic conditions, assuming their doctor expects the conditions to last at least 12 months. In addition to arthritis, qualifying conditions include asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
This service includes personalized assistance based on your unique needs and health goals. In addition, your care is coordinated between your providers, including any specialists, as well as pharmacies and healthcare facilities such as hospitals and testing centers. If you have two or more chronic conditions (very common among arthritis patients), ask your doctor if he or she provides chronic care management services.
This program includes a monthly fee. Your Part B deductible and co-insurance also apply. If you have a Medigap plan, it may help cover these costs. If you’d like to learn more, one of our licensed sales agents can help. Just call toll-free 855-350-8101.