March is national Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month and according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), almost 50 million people have some sort of autoimmune disease. These disorders can mimic many other diseases and have common symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and muscle weakness. Oftentimes patients might have to visit four to five different physicians over several years before receiving a diagnosis.
Autoimmune diseases occur from a dysfunction of the immune system, which is designed to fight infection and protect our bodies from harmful bacteria and toxins. In an autoimmune disease, the body begins to attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified. Some are well known, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis but others are rare and difficult to diagnose.
If you have an autoimmune disease, here are a few things you can do to help:
Manage Stress: Stress and anxiety can trigger symptoms and result in a flare. Try to find ways to simplify your life and handle stressors. Develop strategies of relaxation or pain management techniques that can help you deal with the specific aspects of your disease.
Rest: Restorative sleep is beneficial for everyone but especially important to allow your body and mind to recover and repair. When you are well-rested you are better able to handle the challenges of the next day.
Exercise: Keep moving. Establish a plan for exercise and activity that can help you become stronger and stay mobile. At times it might seem difficult to keep moving through pain but develop a routine that works for you to restore and relax the body.
Diet: A healthy diet and adequate hydration are another key to managing symptoms. Chose a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Keep a food journal to determine possible food triggers and aim for plenty of plain water to avoid dehydration.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Some common symptoms of an autoimmune disorder are chronic fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of strength, decreased range of motion, and balance issues to name a few. Your physical therapist at CTS can use a variety of techniques such as stretching, range of motion and mobility exercises, strengthening activities, balance training, soft issues mobilization, and energy conservation techniques to design a treatment program specifically for your needs. Your PT can also assist with a total rehab program to address the lifestyle changes needed to manage the daily tasks essential to maintaining quality of life. Proper diet, appropriate exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep can go a long way with managing the symptoms of an autoimmune disease. CTS is here to help!