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Chronic Conditions: When A Sprain Is More Than Just A Sprain

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

In my work as a physical therapist, I come across two types of conditions in patients – acute (meaning “brief and severe”) and chronic (meaning “recurring frequently” or “having a long duration”). Acute conditions (such as a pulled muscle or sprained wrist) are much simpler to treat. They tend to heal in a matter of weeks with no lasting consequences. Chronic conditions, however, are a different matter. They can be stubborn to cure (such as carpal tunnel syndrome, stress headaches, or recurring ankle sprains) or have no cure at all (such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or fibromyalgia). For the former category, treatment can last months or even a year. For the latter, treatment is often an ongoing affair, lasting to some extent for the rest of the patient’s life.

For those who suffer from chronic conditions, day to day life can become a burden and coping is often a struggle. Maybe you see your doctor once or twice a month and your physical therapist two or three times a week, but you’re the one who must live with your condition 24/7. Therefore, it’s imperative that you learn to manage the condition yourself in the “in-between” times. The following steps can help you feel better, get more out of your treatment, and improve your overall quality of life.

“Knowledge is power,” to paraphrase the Latin maxim. So that’s step number one – information. Get it. Learn all you can about your particular condition from a variety of sources, including physicians, therapists, books, and trusted internet sites. Coping with a condition like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or carpel tunnel syndrome is often made easier when you understand what’s going on with your body.

Step two is taking charge of your health. Even if you have the best medical team in the world, they can’t do everything for you. Start a symptom diary and use it to keep track of your pain levels, your weight, your diet, how you felt before and after certain activities – anything that might be pertinent to your condition. You may begin to recognize patterns in the improvement or worsening of your symptoms, and you might be able to self-manage them to certain extents. You should also share these findings with your doctor. And when it comes to physicians, make sure you see one that you are comfortable with – one who is reasonably accessible, openly shares information, and is interested in your input. If not, it may be time to change physicians. Remember that it never hurts to get a second opinion or to seek out a specialist.

Step three includes making the often difficult but always necessary lifestyle changes that will make coping with your symptoms easier. Regardless of what condition you’re battling, your body will be better equipped to deal with it if you quit smoking, eat a balanced diet, lose excess weight, and exercise regularly at an appropriate level for your abilities. Other changes that should be made will depend on your particular condition. For example, a person with carpal tunnel syndrome will need to use supportive braces and spend less time on the computer. Someone with stress headaches will need to identify their stressors and make efforts to eliminate them. Lifestyle changes for those with osteoporosis will include calcium supplementation, avoidance of high-risk activities, and engaging in low-intensity weight-bearing exercise. Just remember to always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Lastly, find support in learning to cope with your condition. This may come in the form of friends, family, church members, schoolmates, coworkers, or depending on your condition, a formal support group (such as the Getting Well Support Groups of Idaho). If possible, find someone (or several people) who can provide emotional encouragement, any needed physical assistance or transportation, and can hold you accountable to following your treatment.

Chronic conditions don’t have to be a burden. Start following these four steps today to help you achieve a healthier tomorrow.

Looking for more information? Call 463-0022 today to schedule your FREE Chronic Pain Assessment!