fitness articles

women at 40, disease management

Coping With Chronic Pain In And Out of the Bedroom

Depressed and frustrated, Alicia rolls onto her side after turning down her husband's request for sex again. He thinks she's retreating from him, but she knows it's the pain in her hip that erupts whenever she and Joe have sex. At 40 years old, Alicia doesn't consider herself a candidate for arthritis, yet something is causing her pain - so much that she frequently uses the old "headache excuse" to avoid sex.

For the 26 million women in this country who have arthritis, this scenario might not be unfamiliar. Engaging in sex while suffering from chronic joint pain can be difficult - both physically and emotionally. Further, it's not just women who suffer. Husbands and boyfriends wonder why they're getting the cold shoulder rather than a warm response. Alicia and Joe are not alone in their frustration. In fact, a recent survey of 514 women with arthritis or arthritis symptoms revealed that 93 percent have had joint pain or arthritis pain interfere with their sex lives in the past, with pain causing 61 percent to decline sex with their partners. And only 20 percent suffering in pain felt comfortable to discuss their situation with their personal doctors. Many reported they felt a doctor could not help them. However, without a proper diagnosis, daily life - including one's sex life - can be turned upside down. Women should consult a doctor if they have joint pain. Your doctor can help you and may recommend the following steps:

  • Correct diagnosis/Open discussion - with a doctor
    Open conversation is critical to managing arthritis. Proper diagnosis based on patient history; symptoms of pain, swelling and duration can help your doctor determine a diagnosis. Quantify your pain on a 1-10 scale and express what daily activities increase pain. Unsupervised treatment can wreak havoc.

  • Physical experimentation
    Physical experimentation can help you and your partner get more out of your sexual experience. Alicia and Joe could try strategies like taking a warm bath together, listening to soft music or other relaxation techniques. Find out what works best for you and don't be afraid to experiment. Also, Alicia could explain to Joe what he does that she likes, instead of scolding him, "don't touch me like that." Use phrases that relate to what's positive about the experience to help avoid hurt feelings.

  • Treatment regimen
    Arthritis treatment can include medication, diet, exercise, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Work with your doctor to determine the best treatment.

  • New attitude
    A positive attitude can greatly impact the ability to cope with arthritis. Below are some tips that may help :
    Recognize you don't have to be defined by your illness
    Set goals: short-term and long-term (diet, exercise, quality of life)
    Choose to follow through

Dr. Liza H. Leal, MD, is in private practice in Houston, TX, specializing in family medicine and pain management. At age 25, Dr. Leal was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and chronic form of arthritis. Dr. Leal spent three years in a wheelchair, which inspired her to pursue pain management as a specialty. Currently, Dr. Leal splits her time between her practice, speaking to groups about arthritis and her position as CEO of, an online provider of health-related products. In 2003 she will publish "Pain Management," which chronicles her battle with rheumatoid arthritis and provides health tips and inspiration. Dr. Leal can be reached at [email protected]. The survey referenced was conducted online by Impulse Research and sponsored by Pharmacia, September 2001.

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