Knee flare

December 29, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 6 Comments
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Well, whadayaknow? A knee flare turns out to be some kind of strange ‘dance’ move: you can see it here. Unfortunately it’s also what I’m having one of right now …. I’m dancing too: from the freezer to the microwave and the microwave to the freezer … mostly on one leg.

It started on Boxing Day evening – that’s Wednesday for those outside the UK! Just mild stiffness going upstairs – didn’t really think too much about it. Progressed to serious stiffness Wednesday morning which I assumed would pass of during the day. It didn’t. It got worser and worserer. By Wednesday evening it had started to be painful as well as stiff. I took paracetamol and grumbled.

Thursday my mum was doing a lunch for us and some friends. Splendid meal, good company but my sociability somewhat dampened by knee pain. That evening Mum asked if I did ice-packs or heat packs? DUHHH! Why oh why do I always forget those things?!

Pretty much since then I’ve either had an ice pack or a heat pack on it, or I’ve been moving around on it. It makes a huge difference. I can’t believe how stoooopid I am sometimes! But on the bright side, at least it’s starting to mend – or if it isn’t, then at least I’m starting to feel better.

Shoulder injection has worked … a bit …

November 7, 2012 at 9:32 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 3 Comments
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When I had that shoulder injection I was finding it very hard to pinpoint exactly where the pain was, but I know it was kind of ’round the back’. Well … the pain round the back has gone, the mobility is improved but not great, but now I can exactly pinpoint the pain that remains and it’s to the side/front! I still can’t lift the shoulder much above the horizontal.

I went to see my GP about it last week and she’s put me forward for a scan. I was rather hoping for another injection but she says it’s too soon as, since there has been some improvement from the one I had, it should still be working away and might start to improve the other bit too. I rather doubt that, but she’s the doc, so we shall see!

The other thing she said was that if they do the scan and can see the exact spot that is inflamed, they can do the injection there and then and be sure that it’s in just the right place. And being the NHS, by the time the scan comes through I will certainly have left enough time between injections!

So for the moment it’s a waiting game … again!

In the meantime I have my second cold of the winter, and it’s not even supposed to be winter yet. <sigh, achoooooooooooo=””> I’ve also had an unpleasant flare through most of September and the beginning of October, but that seems to be over now – phew. As usual, nothing whatsoever showed in the bloods. In fact, when I have my six-monthly rheumy appointment in December I’m expecting him to say ‘Oh, did you have a bit of a flare in July – your bloods are slightly up.’ I was 100% fine in July!

Crash bang wallop

September 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’ve been cruising along very nicely thank you for the last few months. I made the mistake of getting used to it I think … Great, I feel fine  … let’s get on with stuff then. Well, you only live once, people to see, things to do, natural history surveys to complete, courses to go on, friends to see … Spanish to learn, embroidery competitions to enter.

Next time I see my rheumatologist, I thought, perhaps we can talk about reducing the MTX.

When will I learn?!

It started a couple of weeks ago with sudden, severe pain in my right thumb. Then it went away. I didn’t see it as a warning sign – I’d got too used to being footloose and flare free. Then it came back … and then other bits started to hurt too … ooooooooh-k, maybe this is a flare, I thought.

And it was.

Fortunately not a terrible one – one of my flare-ettes/aka fizzles, but bad enough to act as a little reminder. It’s over now … I think … but I’m back to being careful …

Well, apart from botanical drawing class an hour’s drive away on Saturday, more natural history recording on Sunday, interviewing tomorrow …

Immune system has an on/off switch ‘in the mind’ …?

September 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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According to this article in the New Scientist (6 September 2012) the “the immune system has an on-off switch controlled by the mind”. On reading the article, one feels that this isn’t actually as daft as it sounds at first. The point is that, “the immune system is costly to run – so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal’s energy reserves.”

Hmm, does that start to explain the fatigue felt by so many RA patients and dismissed by so many doctors? Given that RA is apparently caused by an  over-active immune system, then surely a strong and sustained over the top response must be pretty fatiguing?

Anyway, back to the article … given that the immune response is energy sapping, the theory is that the immune system will only bother kicking in to fight a mild infection if it feels the reserves it will drain can be re-stocked. Apparently Siberian hamsters will fight a mild infection in the summer, when food supplies are plentiful, but won’t do much to fight it in winter conditions.

This leads to the idea that the mind has an ability to play up/down the immune response depending on whether it feels there is help available … and that leads to an explanation of why the placebo effect works. If you think you’re taking a drug to help fight an infection, say, that makes it worthwhile to put up a fight and bring in the immune system, the theory goes.

The theory has now been supported by some computer modelling, which is all explained in the article but which I won’t go into here.

It leads to some interesting questions, to my mind, about autoimmune diseases.

Being a little flippant here, does this mean that all sufferers of autoimmune diseases are optimists who are so confident that help will always be at hand, that we bring our immune systems in on the flimsiest pretexts?

Is the reason autoimmune diseases seem to have become so much more prevalent in the last few decades (so I’m told) because we’re all generally  pretty healthy (until we’re not) and so the body/mind doesn’t have to question whether there are resources available?

And finally, if there’s an on/off switch in my mind, then why can’t I just turn the damn thing off and get on with life?

How not to run a physiotherapy session!

July 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Physio: Good morning! So, we’ve been doing acupuncture on your shoulder, yes?

Penguin: <Feathers on end, eyebrows raised> NO!

Physio: Oh … you seem very definite about that.

Penguin: Yes … I am.

Physio: Erm … what have we been doing then?

Penguin: Some exercises and some frictioning [a kind of massage on the tendon]

Physio: Oh yes, and how was that going?

Penguin: Well the frictioning last week really seemed to help.

Physio: Great. Let’s do some more of that then. Now, the exercises, it was this one, with your arm bent, raising up and out, yes?

Penguin: No …

And so went most of the session. Having said all that, she did do the frictioning and it did help, and once we’d established what exercises I was doing, all went relatively smoothly.

THEN she turned on her computer (with my notes on it of course).

What had happened was that I had the first appointment of the day and she’d obviously been running late and thought, ‘Never mind, I’ll wing it.’ So, a word of advice to health practitioners everywhere – don’t! I’m sure it took her longer to find out what she was supposed to be doing than it would have taken to turn on the computer before we started!

RA – it’s not ‘fair wear and tear’!

May 4, 2012 at 9:20 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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One of the many things people with rheumatoid arthritis battle with is the many misconceptions around the disease, the most ‘popular’ of which is that ‘arthritis is wear and tear on your joints’. One of the reasons this misconception is so hard to grapple with is that it’s true – sometimes. There are many, many kinds of arthritis – all arthritis means is joint inflammation. It comes from the Greek arthron (arthretes or similar depending on which dictionary you look in!) for joint, and –itis, a suffix used to indicate inflation, so it means inflamed joint.

What the word arthritis doesn’t tell you is why the joint is inflamed, and thereby hangs a tale! It gets even more confusing because arthritis tends to be split into the many kinds of ‘inflammatory arthritis’ on the one side, and osteoarthritis, which (is ‘wear and tear’ though by no means always fair!) on the joints, on the other. And yet arthritis means inflammatory, and of course osteoarthritis can cause some inflammation too, so it makes it even harder to explain the differences simply.

Perhaps the most important thing is that however unpleasant, debilitating and downright painful osteoarthritis is, it affects the joints and only the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis and the other related autoimmune diseases are just that – diseases, aka illnesses, and can affect considerably more than your joints.

The difference in a nutshell

Osteoarthritis (also known as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease) is caused by the cartilage between the bones in a joint wearing away or breaking down.  The cartilage basically sits between the bones of a joint and stop them rubbing together. When they do rub together because the cartilage is worn away it can cause a great deal of pain and debilitation.  It often (though by no means always) occurs in one joint, and may be a joint that has been used a great deal e.g. a blacksmith getting osteoarthritis in an arm joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand (and that’s the one I’m going to talk about because it’s the one I know, as I live with it every day) is a chronic, progressive, inflammatory  arthritis. Chronic means long-term, it’s there and, in this case, it’s not going to go away. Progressive means without treatment it’s likely to get worse. It is an autoimmune disease, whereby, for reasons not yet understood (though theories abound) the body’s immune system attacks some of the body’s own tissue instead of (or as well as) invading bacteria etc.  In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) it is the synovium (joint lining) that is the main target of attack, but many other organs can be affected too.

Spot the difference

Even doctors find this one tricky, which is why RA can sometimes take a very long time to diagnose. Another problem is that RA seems to crop up with infinite variety; just about every patient ‘presents’ differently when they go to see their doctor. Some things to look out for though are:

RA will almost always occur in more than one joint at the same time

  • RA will often involve obvious swelling around the joints
  • RA will often involve obvious redness around the joints
  • People with RA will often find joints extremely stiff first thing in the morning, with this stiffness wearing away gradually over a period of an hour or more
  • People with RA will often feel unwell, with a kind of general ‘don’t feel good’ feeling including tiredness, headaches, lethargy and fatigue
  • RA apparently often occurs ‘symmetrically’ – i.e. if you have it one hand, it will also occur in the other. If you have it one knee, it will crop up in the other one too.
  • RA frequently affects the small joints – those in the hands and feet, whereas osteoarthritis often affects the larger joints.

But see all those ‘often’s and ‘almost’s? That’s why it’s so hard to diagnose! The worst of my RA, for instance, has been in my knees and shoulders, so I don’t fit the ‘small joints’ pattern, although it does all affect hands and feet.

The good news as told by Pollyanna Penguin

 If you have osteoarthritis, short of joint replacement and painkillers there’s probably not a lot you can do about it (although maybe glucosamine helps in some way – the jury is out!) If you have rheumatoid arthritis there are treatments available. They are many and varied, and some work for some people and others work for others and you’re really incredibly unlucky they won’t work  for you ; if you’re new to this whole RA thing, don’t panic when you read the blogs all around the RA community. There are hundreds of people out there whose RA is under really good control through drugs and/or other treatments, and as a consequence they consider they have better things to do than blog about arthritis! So those of us who blog tend to be the unlucky ones – although of course there are exceptions. I’m on the fence here – I’m a lucky one – things are pretty much under control, and I only blog once in a while when I have something to say or those nice folks over at IAAM ask me to!

There are many medical treatments out there, and there are new ones coming out quite often too. The new ones, largely ‘biologics’ tend to be very expensive at the moment so your doctor will probably start you off on some of the older ones, which are ‘cheap as chips’ as one of the rheumatology nurses at my hospital put it. I’m on that old stalwart methotrexate. It’s the most commonly used drug I think, it’s certainly ‘cheap as chips’ these days, and for me it really works. Some people have nasty side-effects from it though, and for others it just doesn’t do the job. If that’s the case then it can be tried in combination with other things, or you might be moved on to one of the spangly new biologics.

You might, of course, opt to go for a non-medical treatment. My personal belief is that it’s a good idea to get things under control with medicine and then use other things such as physiotherapy (physical therapy is the US translation!), occupational therapy, acupuncture if you think it helps, dietary things etc. added on top, because I believe that this is a progressive disease and that these various medications, although they won’t flat out cure you, can and often will stop the progression, which is hugely important. Other people disagree and use complementary therapies, which seem to help them. It’s your choice – but please, just do your research before you decide!

Support

So, it’s not all doom and gloom – anyone with RA (or osteo for that matter) would rather not have it, but there are things that can be done, and there is also support out there, from NRAS and Arthritis Care in the UK, the Arthritis Foundation (and others I’m sure) in the US and UK, and now from IAAM, the International Autoimmune Arthritis  Movement. IAAM are doing a lot to increase people’s awareness and understanding of what autoimmune arthritis (RA being one kind of that) is, and I’m proud to be a member and a ‘blog leader’ for them. They have  established World Autoimmune Arthritis Day (WAAD), to be held annually on May 20th, online and during all time zones, making it a 47-hour online event!  This Virtual Convention will unite patients, supporters and nonprofits from around the globe, inviting them to participate in both live and on-demand presentations, scheduled live chat sessions, surveys, live Call to Action posts and access to an online library of downloadable resources that can help people with autoimmune arthritis and their supporters in managing their diseases. WAAD is registered on 16 health calendars internationally and has already received nonprofit support from over a dozen organizations, including the American College of Rheumatology, the Spondylitis Association of America, Arthritis New Zealand, the International Still’s Disease Foundation and Lupus UK.  As the official Host of this historic event, IAAM invites YOU to be a part of it too. Best of all?  It’s FREE to register!

World Autoimmune Arthritis Day  (WAAD) website link- www.worldautoimmunearthritisday.org

WAAD registration link- http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=0&oeidk=a07e5n7i1aq5f98d0e9

Happy Birthday

And what’s more, it’s IAAM’s first birthday on May 7th. Slightly in advance Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear IA(AAAA)AM*, happy birthday to you.

* Can’t sing it properly without some extra As!

‘I’m just going to rest my nose on my elbow for a minute’

May 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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If I had to come up with a list of the top ten things I never thought I’d be saying, that’s got to be up there among them!

I had a physio appointment yesterday for my dodgy shoulder – the one the doctor said was RA and would probably need a joint injection. Well … according to the physio it isn’t and it won’t … and I think she’s right. She thinks it’s likely to be inflammation relating to a previous episode of joint inflammation which caused the joint capsule to swell, so that the muscles around the glenohumeral joint, the ‘rotator cuff’, were pushed about a bit and got inflamed as well. The joint problem seems to have died down, leaving the rotator cuff problem zinging away like a good’n, unfortunately.

Apparently one in three people over the age of forty have a rotator cuff problem anyway, nothing to do with RA, so it might not even be linked, but since I’ve had no injury etc. to exacerbate it, it probably is.

Anyhow, this physio seems to have had prior training as a torturer, although she assured me that she started as a physio straight out of uni last year, but I’ve got to admit that with her heavy and darned painful massage, ultrasound and various exercises, the shoulder is a whole lot better already today, although she says it will probably take three months to heal completely … and that’s if I’m a good penguin and keep remembering to put my nose on my elbow!

Yes, that’s one of the bizarre exercises I have to do to stretch the muscles. Stand feet about a foot from a wall, rest my forearm on the wall in front of me with my upper arm at right-angles to the shoulder joint  and then … rest my nose on my elbow, for about three minutes a day, but not necessarily all at the same time. It really does stretch those muscles! Looks extremely odd though. I can hardly wait to do it in the office and entertain the junior penguins! (Or perhaps I’ll just slink off to the loo and do it there!)

The other main exercise involves lying on the bed with a can of beans and doing a kind of weight-lifting thing. At least having a can of beans by the bed makes it easy it to remember to do the exercise!

See the shattered penguin …

January 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Posted in fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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I’ve spent the last six months on a very useful course run by our local university business school, on helping small businesses to grow. It’s been great and I’ve met some lovely people along the way. Tonight we were asked to do a ‘showcase’ where each of the businesses on the course had a little exhibition stand and said a few words into a mike and generally chatted to invited guests, university bigwigs, previous course attendees and each other.

Unfortunately I was dreading it because I knew the admin was a mess. Fortunately although the admin was a mess, a handful of very brave people had stepped in at the last minute to salvage what they could, and they did a marvellous job. However, as suspected, when we arrived to set up our exhibit, rather than the floor-plan with everyone’s tables labelled, display boards there and of course, vital for me, and definitely requested in advance, CHAIRS, there was organised chaos.

Fortunately the wonderful people who’d stepped in at the last minute were on hand to sort everything out, and equally fortunately we’d brought some folding chairs with us! I did feel sorry for some of the others though, as there were no chairs available at all.

Having said that, once the evening got going I hardly had a chance to sit down, as we were all buzzing about and chatting to each other. There was a really good atmosphere and, in spite of not looking forward to it, we had FUN. On the other hand, I’m absolutely wiped out, completely shattered, totally exhausted … and my left knee is giving me gyp from so much standing around.

Entirely my own fault of course. I had a chair, I have the capability to sit down in it, but I suppose it was partly not wanting to miss out on anything and partly the old not wanting to admit I had a problem, leading to one of those conversations. You know the ones: ‘My auntie’s got arthritis too. It’s all cleared up though since she started rubbing in bindweed’ or ‘all you have to do to get rid of it is lose some weight.’* What I should have done was go and have a chat with the yoga lady and get her to give me some stretching exercises – but every time I looked in her direction (at least right up until the last few minutes) she was deep in conversation.

Oh well, working from home tomorrow so I think that might start with a bit of a lie-in!

* Not that I’m denying that would help!

The joys of a winter routine hospital appointment

December 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I really hate the winter half of my six-monthly hospital appointments. I suppose it could be worse. I have the nurse practitioner visit (usually bad) in summer (not so bad), and the consultant or registrar visit (usually OK) in winter (not so good), so you could say it balances out. I have just had my visit to the register – a very nice young lady who, while obviously struggling with the basics of the English language, still clearly had an excellent grasp of autoimmune diseases! It took rather a long time to find any of that out though.

At the risk of sounding like one of those very bad school essays (‘What I did on my holidays: I got up at 4am. Mummy was cross and said go back to bed. I got up again at 6am. We left the house at 7am. We arrived in Wales at 11:30 am’ etc.) here’s why I hate the winter appointment. I left work at 10:15 for what should have been an approximately half-hour drive to the hospital for an appointment a bit after 11. Why leave such a long time? Because it’s December. The weather was a bit rubbish and if you have an appointment you can guarantee to get stuck behind something slow. I did. Then there’s the car parking – always fun. I struck gold in the third car-park I tried. As you can imagine, after driving round three car parks, all for several minutes, I was starting to cut it fine, but as soon as I reached the Rheumatology Department I realised I need not have worried. The waiting room was heaving! I handed in my appointment letter, took my seat and waited … and waited … and waited. The usual charmless nurselet called me in, did the ‘weigh and wee’ and then I got sent to the equally busy inner weighting room … where I waited … and waited … and waited.

After about an hour a nurse came out and wrote next to my consultant’s name on the notice board ‘running one hour late’. Twenty-five minutes or so after that, I finally got seen. Fortunately I’d taken in a good book. Unfortunately, as it wasn’t so cold as last year, and they were probably even more short-staffed, no one offered us a drink. I hadn’t had time for a drink on arrival because it was time to check in, so I was a bit parched.

Useful appointment with nice registrar followed, which culminated in a further referral (who knows where, who knows when … but no hurry, nothing urgent!) and a blood test. ‘Will you give me a form so that I can get the test at my GP?’ I asked. ‘No, no,’ she said, no doubt intending to be most helpful, ‘you have it here. Just go to the blood test department …’

So, by now thirsty and pretty peckish too, but thinking I’d better get this done before heading for a café, I went and found the blood test department. Guess what? The waiting room was heaving AGAIN. That’s another reason for hating the December appointment. People get ill in the winter!

I went up to reception and got a ticket – 73. The number just called was 63. Only ten, I thought. Surely it won’t be that long. ‘What’s the waiting time likely to be, just roughly?’ I asked the receptionist. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘Could be up to 45 minutes … but it might be much quicker.’ Aaaaaaaaaaaargh. 45 minutes? Aaaaaaaaaaargh! And we were so busy at work too. So I phoned the duty junior penguin at work and went ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh’ down the phone at her. (It’s in the job description – ‘be prepared to listen to senior penguin going aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh periodically’.)

As it turned out though, the queue did go down quickly. All of a sudden they were charging through people and I was the only one left, and then my number came up, and in I went to be processed. (It did feel a bit like that this time, but given the numbers they were having to get through, I can’t really blame them!)

And so back home, stuck behind another slow lorry most of the way and then, somewhat peculiarly, a slow ambulance!  I eventually got back into work at around 2.15.

Four hours out of work: total time with medical staff, approximately 15 minutes. Frustration factor: high.

Merry Christmas, Felis Navidad, Feliz Natal and Happy Chanukah to all.

Knee Cosy

December 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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Oh crumbs – it’s snowing! You may remember that in my previous post I was winging about the cold the other day; well, it’s colder.

Yesterday the journey home was worse than I ever. I had a hectic day at work but I felt fine (if a little stressed) … and then I left the office to go home.

The moment my left knee found itself outside it started to complain, and the complaints got louder as I drove, to the point where I knew I wasn’t able to concentrate a hundred percent on my driving. Not good!

Although I get the ‘traditional’ sore and achy hands and feet of RA, the worst affected thing has always been my left knee, and if I have a flare that’s usually where it starts. This is the first year I’ve really noticed the cold affecting it though.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to keep that knee warm, specifically while driving. A lap blanket (Afghan in the US I believe) wouldn’t be safe, as it might slip into the foot-well and get tangled with my driving foot. (Fortunately, considering the sate of the left knee, I drive an automatic!)

I’ve decided the solution might be a ‘knee cosy’! I’m not quite sure yet how it would work. Perhaps a combination of a sports-style knee protector and a pouch that could incorporate one of those gel reusable hand-warmer type things?

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to discover I’m not the first person (by a long, long way) to think up the neat ‘knee cosy’ moniker, but people are using it as a name for lap blankets, not for my cunning plan. I may have to make this my Christmas craft project!

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