Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Arthritis 3: More Insights

In order to get a clearer picture of what was going on, I made an appointment with my husband’s orthopedist (MHO), whom I had met five years ago.  I gathered up the DVD and all the test results and made a list of questions.  When MHO came into the room I almost didn’t recognize him; he seemed to have lost at least fifty pounds and looked tan and fit.  I told him my story and he gave me his version of the situation.  Like my PCP, he thought that the pain and inflammation were caused by a flare-up of pre-existing osteoarthritis.  He thought the arthritis, especially in my right hand, was more serious than the radiologist did.  He was intrigued by what I said about the workouts and the gliSODin, which he hadn’t heard of either.

The bottom line, as I already suspected, was that this condition was not going to go away.  The bone spurs were there to stay and so was the swelling in my index finger.  To help the inflammation I could do warm water soaks and paraffin dips (the same treatment beauty salons use to soften hands).  There was also a more expensive therapy involving corn husks (?), which I probably didn’t need.  I could try glucosamine/chondroitin supplements or a capzasin-based cream or a prescription gel called Voltaren.  Years before I had tried glucosamine/chondroitin to see if it would help my knees.  It made them swell up; when I was doing Sleeping Child pose I felt as though I was kneeling on balloons.  I had also tried capzasin and found it too irritating to my skin – it’s based on hot pepper.  I decided to try the Voltaren gel.  

I also asked MHO about exercising my hands – the  parts of my body that get lots of exercise don’t seem to have bad arthritis, though they probably have some – and he had a couple of helpful comments.  He said, “If you’re going to work with exercise, work on stretching.” He also told me that in arthritic fingers bands of tissue build up around the joints limiting range of motion.  Since he does surgery on people’s joints, he has seen this firsthand.  Since I can only look at my hands from the outside (and in the x-ray), I would not have known about this.

Over the next few days I thought about this conversation, especially the part about the bands of tissue, and was reminded of when I had dealt with frozen shoulder many years ago (see my post “Frozen Shoulder:  What Worked For Me.” 8/25/2011).  I had torn something in the back of my shoulder.  In order to avoid the requisite surgery, which takes a long time to heal, I went to an acupuncturist.  Her treatments healed the tear but left me with frozen shoulder, otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis.  When the body experiences injury or inflammation it sometimes constructs protective bands (adhesions) around the affected area.  In the case of the shoulder, this can make it difficult to do put on a coat or fasten your seat belt in a car.  In the case of my hands, it was starting to prevent me from bending my fingers, which I need to do in order to hold a pen or a pair of scissors.   

The way you deal with adhesions, as I discovered with my shoulder, is to work into them a little at a time.  Over a period of six months, I used yoga and other stretches to work into the affected area and get back the range of motion in my shoulder.  I still have a bone spur where the injury was but the muscle slides right over it when I do rotator cuff exercises.  Perhaps I could apply the same approach to the present situation. 

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