It is a very well known fact that stress can cause the body to react. It doesn't take a specialist to tell us this either. How many of you have struggled to reach a diagnosis? I know it took me 19 years to get to that point. I was always told, "it's just stress", or "you're just depressed", you name it, I have heard it. Your body under to much stress can cause depression, pain, sleep disturbances, a number of health issues, digestive issues, skin issues, weight gain or loss, reproductive issues and memory issues.
That is a lot to consider, so lets talk about the connection for a minute. A chronic pain disease causes stress because pain is a known stressor. When you have a chronic pain disease that alone causes all the symptoms listed above I am sure you can imagine that is stressing your body out a great deal. With an invisible illness like AS (Ankylosing Spondylitis) you just have this vicious cycle of stressors causing more stress.
How do we know our bodies are interdependent? Well, everything in your body is dependent on something else. It takes oxygen for anything in your body to function properly. The lungs are the source of this oxygen. If something happens and your lungs don't produce enough oxygen, your body can actually shut down body systems to funnel all the oxygen to the most important places. Here is another example. When we don't get enough sleep, or we don't eat properly it can cause us to feel bad. We may have a headache, or we might be even feel sick to our stomach from a headache. Why does this happen, well its because everything in the body is connected and it all depends on the parts functioning properly. These parts don't function properly if something isn't right.
With that being said, lets talk about what we can do to improve our overall health. If we look at treatment from a holistic approach, then we will be treating our body as a whole unit rather then just treating a symptom that we have. In this approach, the simplest example still is the headache. If you are using this approach then rather than grab a Tylenol or whatever your go to brand may be, then if your headache is because you haven't slept well, or maybe you haven't ate, you will take a nap or eat something. This will then improve the headache. Holistic Medicine considers healing the body, mind, spirit and emotions without just jumping straight to medicine as the answer.
How can I improve my health
I am sure everyone can recall a commercial talking about a new medication. How about that disclaimer they throw in at the end with that lengthy list of possible side effects? I am willing to bet that some of us are on at least one medication just because of a side effect. How can we change this? Well, there are plenty of options and we are going to talk about a lot of them. Please keep in mind, this is not anything more than an average Jane talking about my perspective on topics. In no way am I advising anyone to do anything without actually doing some research of their own. Please, make sure to always discuss any thing you want to try with your Doctor.
Why is all of this stuff important? For many of us, it is because we suffer everyday. I'm sure that we can be the first to admit that our body definitely reacts when something doesn't work right. Our immune system is out of whack, and our entire body suffers from it. By treating the body as a whole rather than by treating our symptoms we gain control of improving our health. By no means is this a cure or a replacement for anything. We do still need Doctors and probably in many cases some medication.
What are some ways that we can do this? Lets start with the more accepted methods. We need to think about our diet, take a good look at how we are feeding our bodies. The food, is the fuel our body needs to function properly. What foods are we eating? Fast Foods, sugar, refined flour, dairy, gluten, artificial sweeteners, fried food, saturated fats, grain fed meats, artificial additives, trans fat, processed foods. Every one of those foods is a contributor to inflammation. Doesn't that basically describe our entire food source? We are a nation of eat on the go, and eat out. We add butter and salt to everything. Our food sources are pumped full of growth hormones and steroids. Our plants, sprayed with chemical pesticides. If that isn't enough, we add all these other things to our food to make it last for years in a box, can or bag. We need to start eating clean, organic and fresh foods. Improving our diet is very beneficial to the overall health of everyone.
How do you sleep? I am guessing not like you should. This is another important change we can make that will make a drastic improvement to your life. How many of you are laying in bed right now looking at your phone, or sitting at a laptop? You might be checking out Facebook, or scrolling through Twitter. Some of you might even get into playing those addictive games we all get annoying Facebook request from. We no longer give our brains time to wind down. Society doesn't do anything to help us in this area either. The cost of living goes up, and pay does not. Some of us working longer hours, and others taking on second jobs to make ends meet. This as well cuts into the time our body should be getting to rest. Lets all start by cutting out all technology for a certain amount of time each day and give our minds some down time.
We also need to look into our activity level. Do you get any form of exercise? Extra weight can put a high demand on your body, causing additional stress and a number of other health concerns. If you are not at a healthy weight, it is going to impact your AS. It is hard enough dealing with a restricted range of motion, try adding extra weight and it just got that much harder! Exercise comes in many forms. I for one enjoy hiking. It is a great way to work my body, as well as give my mind down time, and my soul gets an abundance of joy from being in the mountains. This gives me a chance to work my lungs, and heart in a way that challenges me, because my lungs and heart are affected by my AS. I also get a grand reward as the payoff. My body is in motion and it helps me maintain as much of my movement as possible. If we work on our diet, sleeping issues and exercise then we are going to feel better.
Don't tell me this is a placebo effect. I have witnessed first hand what these things alone can actually do for your health. A family member of mine was an obese, diabetic, on a CPAP machine and had poor vision requiring corrective lenses. After he lost weight he was no longer diabetic, his vision completely improved and he no longer needed corrective lenses. He also was able to come off the CPAP machine. This is all the proof I will ever need that treating the body as a whole can improve your health. All the medicine in the world couldn't cure his issues, but doing something about his weight issue did improve his health.
Stress is the ultimate enemy
Stress, how can we manage stress? Sleeping better and exercise can do this for sure. However, there is a wide range of other ways to decrease the stress in your life. Many of these are controversial. There is also no scientific result of how it will make each person feel. Please do your research, and know that some of these methods have no science behind them. Make sure that any provider you see has a full understanding of AS and all of your symptoms. Find someone that will listen to you, and always tell them if something isn't feeling good or doesn't work. Don't be afraid to give something different a chance. Some of these methods are Counseling, Cryotherapy, Cupping, Acupuncture, Tens Therapy, Chiropractic Care, Massage Therapy.
Counseling is very helpful for me. I have learned how to control a great deal of my depression and anxiety. No, it's not for everyone. It also isn't easy and in no way is it a quick fix. I have been in therapy for over a year now. Sometimes I still learn new things about myself and new ways to overcome an issue I might be facing. This has given me a tremendous amount of control over my emotional well being. I have eliminated so much stress from my life just because I was able to open up and talk about negative things in my life. Yoga and meditation are other good ways to calm yourself. Yoga is about relaxation and stretching, so what better way for us to help ourselves. With AS fusion and loss of range of motion is a big concern, so why wouldn't we want to try something that is meant to keep you flexible? These are also both great ways to relax, and reduce stress, helping control depression and anxiety.
Message Therapy is such a soothing way to relax the body. This is just a short term fix, but it does help to relax the muscles and decrease pain temporarily. It has been shown in studies that massage is beneficial in reducing pain, but only short term, and we must maintain going to actually maintain the benefit. If you go once and stop, its not going to help you more than just the amount of time it takes for your body to tense back up. Studies are being done as to what benefits this can have on certain diseases.
Tens therapy or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation uses low voltage electrical current for pain relief. It is believed that the shock can scramble the signal causing the pain to decrease. It is also believed that it stimulates endorphins in the body which also reduce pain. This is also a short term fix. I actually really enjoy Tens Therapy, it helps me cope with my pain on my worst days.
Chiropractic Care is intended to align the body. It is believed that misalignment can affect the nervous system. A chiropractor's goal is to reduce pain and advocate on the importance of accounting for your own health. Many people warn against this type of treatment for AS. it is uncertain if it can have any positive results. It is extremely important that you have a Chiropractor that understands your diagnosis and symptoms completely. It is a concern that with our more fragile joints after fusion that it is dangerous. Many Doctors advise against it, but I have had many fellow AS sufferers tell me that they have a Doctor that encourages it, and that it really helps them. Just do your homework first.
Acupuncture is the use of tiny needles to stimulate specific points in the body. Research shows there is potential benefit for pain relief. More research needs to be conducted on this though. By stimulating these trigger points in the body, it sends out signals to decrease the pain and release endorphins the same way that Tens Therapy can do. If you choose to use any of these methods please keep in mind that they are to be used in combination with your regular medical care.
Cryotherapy only seems taboo because of the name. If you look at the bigger picture it really makes sense. When we sprain or strain something what do we do? We put it on ice, because this helps reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. Many medical procedures are done using a form of freezing abnormal tissue to destroy it. Knowing that the medical field already takes advantage of cold therapy, why not try this out? There are places set up to treat your whole body just as you would any other injured part., alternating cold then hot. You would go into the Cryo freeze, then come out into a sauna, and you can repeat this process for several minutes.
Probably one of the more controversial methods, and by far the one with the least scientific research behind it would be Cupping. Yes, you can google all kinds of information about cupping. This practice is said to promote new blood flow and release anti inflammatory chemicals in the body. I wouldn't consider this as more than maybe just a relaxation technique. I am also not sure how relaxing it would be, but there are definitely plenty of people out there who believe it has healing powers.
Stay in the know
All of the options I have talked about should only be used if you have done your research on the provider and the method. They should also be used in combination with regular Doctor visits. None of this is a full proof way to be medication free. You may still need to take some medicine to control all of your disease. Continuing to work with your Doctor will ensure that none of the methods used are having any negative impact.
This is just a source of ideas that might be beneficial to decreasing the stress in your life. By doing that, we will naturally improve our health this resulting in less need for medication. It could drastically decrease my list of 12 and counting medicines. Changing my diet could mean no more Gerd, that eliminates two right off the bat. Using relaxation techniques along with counseling could give me better control of my anxiety and depression and there goes another one. If I can use all of that to somehow improve my sleeping issues, I would be down a fourth one. Most importantly if any of this contributes to better pain control, I would have less need for pain medication and ultimately live a much better life.
Overall. none of what I have talked about will harm you. It will either work, or it wont. That being said, why not give it a try? Why wouldn't we treat our body as a whole instead of just treating our symptoms? Good Luck on your journey, whatever path it may take you down. Now get out there and....
Kick Some AS!