Ask Dr. Arthritis: Does Suffering From Arthritis Affect Body Image?
For most, arthritis doesn’t overtly show how it changes your body. Your joints may be grinding against each other with every step you take, but no one can see that. Your hands may feel stiff and sore everyday, but you’re probably going to grin and bear it and type away on your laptop. A flare up may have woken you up in the middle of the night and you were unable to go back to sleep until daybreak, but you’ll shake it off and get ready for work anyway.
Just because you often don’t see the kind of toll arthritis takes on the human body doesn’t mean it’s not real. But the truth is, the changes it has made on your movement, capabilities, and lifestyle is enough to make you feel that your body has betrayed you.
If you can look back to before you were diagnosed—didn’t you love the way you could walk wherever you wanted? How your body could let you enjoy your favorite sport without a second thought? How you were so capable of not just taking care of yourself but your loved ones as well?
Once your symptoms started, you began to struggle with even the simplest tasks. Your chronic pain and physical limitations were forcing you to admit that your body isn’t just what it was. You now have to rethink the future and reevaluate your lifestyle.
More advanced cases of arthritis can also cause more visible changes to your physical appearance. For example, inflammation of joints can cause swelling in your joints leading to changing the shape of your fingers, feet, and other joints. Medication and chronic pain forcing us into a sedentary lifestyle may also affect our weight.
All things considered, if body image refers to how a person thinks and feels about their body, then yes—arthritis does affect body image. And it can influence how well we are able to manage our condition.
So what can we do about it? Make a conscious effort to nurture a positive body image—
- Don’t let your condition define you. There’s more to you than your arthritis. Yes, you now have physical limitations but try to see yourself beyond your illness and appreciate yourself as a whole.
- Understand that while you will now have physical limitations, you still have the opportunity to develop abilities that will let you feel more empowered.
- Remember that just because you now can’t do something because of your illness, it doesn’t mean that you are a complete failure.
- Apply positive changes to your body—manage your weight, eat healthier, whenever possible, try to stay active.
- Be realistic about your goals. Don’t overcommit yourself.
- Try to find ways to distract yourself from your condition—if you can still engage in your hobbies, do so; watch a movie; read a book; volunteer for a cause that’s important to you.
- Accept that your feelings and emotions are valid—arthritis is a big lifestyle change for you and it can be overwhelming.
- Talk to someone—arthritis can be frustrating and it can trigger depression, anxiety, and distress. Find a community that can relate or simply open up to a friend or loved one about what you’re going through.
At the end of day, you’re not alone in this. There are millions of arthritis sufferers all over the world who are going through the same thing you are. If at any point you feel unsupported, frustrated and overwhelmed by what you’re going through, reach out and share what you’re feeling.