Bev's Story: Coping With Arthritis
Bev isn't letting the pain of arthritis in her hands and back keep her from doing her favorite activity—gardening. Nor does she let it keep her from doing anything else in her life.
She has found ways to help reduce the pain that allow her to still enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like seeing the season's first crocus bloom.
Out in the garden
In the garden, Bev now plants her flowers and vegetables in flowerpots or raised garden beds instead of planting them directly in the ground. It's easier this way, because she doesn't have to bend down too low to care for them, and it doesn't take as much effort to plant them. She also uses tools that have large, curved handles instead of thin, straight handles. Tools shaped like these help to take the pressure off of her back and the joints in her hands.
Bev has even found ways to modify some older tools to make them easier and more comfortable to use. "Gardening books and magazines always have wonderful ideas and innovations that you can use," she says. "For instance, I've cut off sections of the rubber insulation that is used to cover water pipes and slipped them over any of the garden tools that I'm going to use, because it gives me a little more cushion and a little extra width for my tools."
Around the house
In the kitchen, she has replaced most of her eating and cooking utensils with "things that have a big, fat rubber handle"—such as spoons, knives, vegetable peelers, and specially designed jar openers. That has made a big difference, she says, because the smaller the handle, the harder it is to grip it. And if she's doing anything for a long time, like peeling potatoes, a bigger handle makes it less painful to use.
She has also replaced most of the outside doorknobs to her house with handles that have a lever, and she's thinking about replacing the ones inside too. Doorknobs, she says, are harder to open and can really hurt her hand and wrist when she tries to turn them.
Easing the pain
For the past 6 years, Bev has been able to keep her pain under control with over-the-counter pain medicine, supplements, massage, and acupuncture.
But massage and acupuncture seem to help her the most. Each month, Bev gets a massage to loosen up and soften her tense muscles and then has tiny needles placed at certain points on her hands, arms, and back to help relieve her pain. "After I have a massage and acupuncture, I feel like a new person."
"I encourage people to find out what treatments others have tried and what things have worked for them," she says. "I'm a believer in other people's ideas. Obviously, what works for one person may not work for another, but unless you try it, you'll never know if it'll help."
Taking back control
At 76, Bev is not showing any signs of slowing down. When she's not working in her garden or cooking her famous potato soup, she's helping to set up monthly support group meetings or a local conference on arthritis.
She says that it's important to get involved and learn about your health problem. She encourages people to stay active, keep in touch with family and friends, and ask for help when they need it.
"There are so many things in our life that we can control," says Bev. "And there are big things that we can't control. But if we assume control of the things that we can, at least we feel like we're doing something to make our lives better."
Bev's story reflects her experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Bev, to protect her privacy.
For more information, see the topic Osteoarthritis.