What I Wish My Gym Trainers Knew
When I’m asked, “Are you okay?” I often find myself saying, “I have arthritis,” which downplays the severity of my psoriatic disease diagnosis. This gives the impression that my shoulders or hips are a little achy, probably a result from a previous injury. Downplaying my psoriatic arthritis tends to happen more when I have limited time to fully explain what psoriatic arthritis is or if I’m just too tired to get caught up in a long conversation.
This happens at least once a week when I exercise at the gym. Concerned members and trainers truly care about me, and I’m extremely grateful for that. But I can tell they don’t grasp the severity of psoriatic arthritis, and they certainly don’t know how to help. This is not their fault. I haven’t been straight forward with them, so I can’t expect them to understand.
So here are some things I wish I told my kickboxing coaches from the start:
Not all arthritis is the same
There are more than 100 forms of arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a kind of autoimmune arthritis, where the body mistakenly attacks my healthy tissue – my joints and skin. Psoriatic arthritis is not osteoarthritis, the type often associated with previous injuries or as a result of wear and tear.
My psoriatic arthritis affects my shoulders, wrists, knees, hips, neck and back. Rarely are they all angry at the same time, but often there is at least one joint that is very painful. In addition, I have inflammation in my tendons, especially my ankles and the soles of my feet.
Mornings are worse, as my joints haven’t had enough time to wake up and get the juice in the joints moving. Sometimes, they are in pain, but often they are just very stiff and they’ll loosen up with movement and patience.
I can get sick easily
I’m not germophobic, but I do have to pay attention to bugs going around. The medication I take for psoriatic arthritis suppresses my immune system, making it easier for me to catch the germs going around. And what may last for a day or two for the average person, if I get a cold, it can last a week or longer. So, yeah, I wash my hands a lot and try to avoid the sick ones who insist on coming to class.
I’m stronger than you know
Most importantly, I’m not lazy, and I’m not a quitter. I’m stronger than you know, and I’m stronger than I know. If it looks like I’m giving up, please understand that I am listening to my body to avoid further joint damage and will join in the class when it is the right time and the right exercise for me.
Push-ups, burpees, squats and jumps are my nemesis – not because they are just plain evil in the regular gym world, but because I end up with a lot of joint pain after just a repetition or two. I tend to modify these activities to keep my heart rate up while paying attention to my joints. Here are some of my favorite modifications:
- Push-ups: Do them against the wall, rather on the floor, to take stress off wrists and back.
- Burpees: Hands on knees, then arms out in front as I reach one foot back to form a small lunge, then feet back together and hands on knees, and finally calf raise as I reach high. Repeat with other foot back.
- Squats: If my knees are happy, but back is angry, I will do squats but put my hands on my thighs to protect my back. If my knees are angry, then I will just reach my foot out to the side, then back in, and finally repeat on with the other foot.
- Jumps: Calf raises instead of high impact jumps.
- Too many repetitions stress out my joints, especially my shoulders and knees. I will often do half as many as the rest of the class or throw a different punch or kick altogether.
Don’t baby me
Don’t call me out in class to make sure I’m okay. I do not want to feel different; I already feel frustrated with my body. I am here to work just as hard as the rest of the class; it just might be in a different way. A pat on the back after class when you can tell I’m hurting makes all the difference.
I wish I had taken the time to meet with my trainers before starting classes. This would have given me the time to explain more about psoriatic arthritis in a more private setting. They could ask questions, and I could answer without feeling rushed or stressed. While I do regret not explaining from the start, I have since had these meetings with them. As a result, our relationship is better than ever.
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