The aching joints and draining fatigue of psoriatic arthritis can affect everything you do — making workdays last forever, leaving you too tired to play with your kids, and having you long for an early bedtime. When you’re also experiencing the uncomfortable skin lesions of psoriasis, coping can be even harder.
Although psoriatic arthritis is a frustrating disease with special challenges, it doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your life. Using a holistic approach combining medication and lifestyle changes, you can deal with the physical and emotional demands of psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic Arthritis: Symptoms Can Change
Between 10 and 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. Like other forms of arthritis, this condition results in painful, swollen joints and can lead to severe joint damage, if not treated early.
And psoriatic arthritis symptoms can vary in intensity among people or even in the same person over time. Symptoms can come and go, sometimes seemingly on a whim. This aspect of the disease can make it incredibly difficult to manage.
“The one that people talk to me most about is the utter unpredictability of it,” says Ted Grossbart, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “I liken it to going for a drive with no idea how much gas there is in the tank. Experiencing at unpredictable moments not being able to walk or finding that your hands just don’t work in the middle of something is awfully tough. The disease is such a moving target.”
Psoriatic Arthritis Triggers
There’s no doubt about it: Psoriatic arthritis can take a toll on your emotional and physical health, between the embarrassment you might feel about your skin lesions or swollen joints and your painful symptoms.
Although much about psoriatic arthritis remains unknown, studies have discovered that there are some possible triggers behind your flares, including:
- Too much alcohol
Stress definitely seems to play an important role in the onset and severity of both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis symptoms. And although doctors aren’t sure why some people with psoriasis get psoriatic arthritis, evidence suggests that the more severe the psoriasis, the more likely you are to develop psoriatic arthritis.
But don’t be discouraged — the vast majority of people with psoriatic arthritis can find much relief, and a reduction of symptoms, with the right treatment.
Coping With Psoriatic Arthritis: Get Medical Help
If you have psoriasis and also have any symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, one of the most important steps in coping is to get the medical help you need.
Start by talking with your general practitioner or a dermatologist. They can then help you create a treatment team to deal with your unique needs. This team may include a dermatologist, rheumatologist, physical therapist, or psychiatrist.
You can also visit the “Find a Doctor” section on the National Psoriasis Foundation’s website, to search for a doctor in your area.
Coping With Psoriatic Arthritis: Healthy Lifestyle
Though exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing with your sore and swollen joints, regular physical activity may actually make it easier to cope with psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
“It is a common misconception that patients think they will hurt their joints if they exercise,” says Philip Mease, MD, a Seattle rheumatologist, but “in general, virtually all studies regarding exercise and arthritis show positive results.”
A regular exercise regimen may help alleviate stiffness and strengthen the muscles that surround your inflamed or damaged joints. And stretching and resistance exercises can help improve the range of motion of affected joints.
There are exceptions, of course, like running hard on an extremely inflamed knee or ankle. “But, in general, consistent aerobic conditioning yields positive results,” Mease tells WebMD, leading to stronger muscles around joints, emotional well being, and less disability. “Yoga and tai chi can be helpful,” too, Mease adds.
Finally, exercising and eating a healthy diet also helps you maintain a healthy body weight, reducing joint stress.
Yet even with the healthiest intentions, you may sometimes find your psoriatic arthritis symptoms get in the way of eating right, and exercising. Don’t be deterred — try these tips:
- If your swollen joints don’t fit in traditional exercise sneakers, look for shoes with extra room in the toe for added comfort. Shoe inserts, including orthotics or heel pads, may also make exercising more comfortable.
- If you can’t find a way to exercise that doesn’t hurt, ask your doctor whether physical therapy is right for you. A physical therapist can help you design an exercise program that works with, not against, your psoriatic arthritis.
- If your psoriatic arthritis is making your hands stiff and painful, or if you’re feeling extremely fatigued, the idea of making a healthy meal can be overwhelming. Make sure you have healthy options — like good-for-you frozen meals or pre-cut fruits and veggies — on hand, so your diet won’t suffer when your psoriatic arthritis symptoms get you down.
Coping With Psoriatic Arthritis: Find Support
Dealing with the pain, discomfort, and depression that can go hand-in-hand with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can be isolating. But it’s important to realize you’re not alone. Many people find that support groups can really help. “The power of a support group is enormous in terms of emotional support and sharing knowledge,” Grossbart tells WebMD.
Online supports groups are also a great place to share your experiences and to learn from others living with psoriatic arthritis.
A good place to begin your search for a support group that’s right for you is on the National Psoriasis Foundation web site. But you don’t have to seek help only from fellow psoriatic arthritis sufferers. Family and friends can be a great support network, so let them know what you’re experiencing.
“It is important for patients to maintain strong family ties and friendship networks, as well as affiliations such as church or social clubs,” says Mease.
Coping With Psoriatic Arthritis: Relax & Recharge
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis may be thought of as diseases that affect the skin and the joints, but it’s essential for patients and doctors to understand the close connection to mental health.
Many people with the conditions are known as “stress responders,” which means that emotional stressors, like tough times at work or an illness in the family, can make their condition worse.
The good news is that, if your psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis get worse under stress, you may find the following techniques help you relax, which could improve your psoriatic arthritis symptoms:
- Spend time with family and friends
Remember, you can cope with the physical and emotional demands of psoriatic arthritis — by reaching out and getting the help you need.