Interesting how one kind of pain can “cancel out” another.
In the weeks since the dog bite, I’ve had only very light rheuma pain in my hands, and none in any other joints. And Terry, who writes the blog, “Dual Sports Life,” writes today about his recent relaxing vacation in the sun and how his pain disappeared until he went back to work a couple of days ago. When things like this happen, I wonder (a bit uncomfortably) if my rheuma pain really is in my head.
Of course, I know it’s not. There are real, measurable, physical proofs of the existence of rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammation we all experience in our joints is a reality. It does cause stiffness. It does cause fatigue. It is, frequently, very painful. Even agonizing. When I went to a rheumatologist two years ago for help, there was no question after he examined me and got the blood test results back that I have rheumatoid arthritis.
But I also know that stress absolutely can make rheuma worse. When I was diagnosed 22-plus years ago, I was living in a foreign country, had a demanding job (that I loved), was raising my small daughter 3,000 miles away from my old support system of close friends and family, and was only recently married to a man I discovered was an alcoholic. Thinking back, I don’t recall feeling terribly stressed (at least, not all the time; there were many good times mixed in with the bad). The timing of my RA onset was probably just coincidence; I loved living and working overseas. Nevertheless, the disease was far more painful and disabling then than it is now. And after I returned to the U.S., ended the destructive relationship, and found my way back into daily American life here close to family and friends, my rheuma pain gradually eased over a period of years – and then stopped altogether without drugs.
Was stress causing my symptoms?
According to Marikje Vroomen-Durning, RN and Cynthia Hayes, MD in a short article in Everydayhealth.com,
“(R) esearch shows that stress may play a role in the actual inflammation that causes pain, inflammation in RA is partly caused by molecules called cytokines. While cytokines can be released for a variety of reasons, stress also releases them. If you’re stressed and are releasing more cytokines, you probably will develop more inflammation. This may result in more pain.”
So perhaps stress contributed to the intensity of the RA symptoms I experienced back then. But it didn’t cause them. RA itself did that.
My dog-bitten right hand is almost completely healed. There’s very little discomfort left in it, which is a blessing. But it’s also been a blessing that, while my right hand was infected and pain-full, my rheuma-dragon didn’t pile on with more pain and stiffness in that hand or elsewhere in my body. Well, let me qualify that. It did once, briefly, when it flared in my right wrist a few days after the initial bite. That, however, was likely because that wrist was being held immobile by a splint and wrappings. Once I took them off my hand, the rheuma flare eased.
The pain and temporary disability from the dog bite was, simply, a different kind of pain than I’m used to. Puncture wounds are sharp, stingy things, and the emotional toll involved in the decision to euthanize my beloved old dog was heavy. Yet given all that stress, shouldn’t my RA have flared, big-time?
Well, it didn’t. And it’s only been the last couple of days that my hands have started feeling achy and twingy again with unmistakable rheuma pain.
“Aw, you’ve got a headache? Hold still. I’ll kick you in the knee and you’ll forget all about your head.” That’s an old joke, but maybe there’s some truth in it.