Improving pain management in people with arthritis

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June Henderson’s life changed when she was referred to The Arthritis Society’s Arthritis Self-Management Program (ASMP) by her social worker. At this time in her life she had been living with psoriatic arthritis, one of the 100 different types of arthritis, for nearly 30 years. She was angry about her disease, what it did to her body and how it affected her life. “Is this really happening to me?” she thought. June was directed to the ASMP program to help her work through many of the tough issues she faced daily due to her arthritis.

ASMP, a program developed by Stanford University and adopted by The Arthritis Society 10 years ago, is taught over a six-week period in weekly, two-hour sessions. Each cycle usually has from eight to 14 participants and is led by two trained volunteers. Many of the teachers have arthritis or are health-care professionals. They all show an interest in helping people with arthritis and have successfully completed an ASMP Leader Training Workshop. Leaders teach the program in pairs and follow a standardized course outline to ensure the quality of the program. Participants work from The Arthritis Help Book (by Kate Lorig and Dr. James F. Fries), which is included in the $35 cost of the program.

Although June’s relationship with ASMP started in the participant’s chair, for 5 years now she has been a volunteer teacher of the program. June realized that ASMP could make a difference for people with arthritis. It taught her how to take control of her life, manage her arthritis, implement a suitable exercise routine and make lifestyle changes that would help her live her life to the fullest. “Teaching the program is another way to help me develop a better understanding of my arthritis; I learn something new each time I teach,” she says.

The program offers participants the opportunity to learn and discuss new information and skills on how to take a more active roll in managing their arthritis, and how to communicate and work with their health-care team so they can maximize their prescribed treatment plan. The participants also get the chance to share with their peers their experiences with pain, fatigue, emotions and lifestyle changes.

That is exactly how Lisa Jai, a recent ASMP participant in Toronto, feels about how the program helped her. Lisa, first diagnosed with arthritis at seven years old, and now in her mid twenties, first thought that attending the course would be a great proactive way to gain control of her life. When she walked through the door of her first class she was, for the first time, in a room where everyone, in some way, was affected by arthritis: some newly diagnosed, older, younger, all at different stages of their disease, family and friends of participants, and those wanting to understand arthritis. “There was finally a place for me where everyone seated in the room was affected by arthritis,” she says of her revelation. “Usually I am the only one, hiding my disease.”

For Lisa, there were two aspects of the program that she found very valuable in managing her arthritis: learning coping strategies and interacting with other people with arthritis. “I learned to modify my home to make daily activities easier, how to preserve my energy and what I could do to prevent my body from having a flare-up.” Secondly, Lisa says about the social component of the program, “Seeing the faces of others affected by this disease, hearing the stories of their lives, and knowing that I was not alone helped me cope.”

The program’s objective is to teach strategies to help participants take control of their arthritis and includes pain-management techniques. As a result, following the program, participants have reported that they experience less pain, are more mobile, have an increased understanding of arthritis, have learned new ways to cope, and have become more active in managing their arthritis. “Participants find the program beneficial because of the lifestyle changes the course teaches them to make,” says Laurie Hurley, Senior Director of Arthritis Programs at The Arthritis Society. “ASMP is meant to complement the advice of a participant’s healthcare team, or their prescribed treatment plan. It is designed to help people with arthritis to become active participants in their health-care treatment plan.”

June adds: “As a teacher of the program, I see how it can change people living with arthritis; simple changes that are encouraged throughout the program can improve each person’s confidence, like they did for me.”

ASMP is available in many communities across the country and is held in wheelchair-accessible facilities. To find out where there is a program near you and to learn about an upcoming session in your region, call The Arthritis Society’s Information Line at 1.800.321.1433 or visit www.arthritis.ca/asmp.