Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects the connective tissues of many of the body's organs. More common in women than men, this disorder tightens the skin but also affects the heart, lungs, intestines and esophagus. Sadly, arthritic symptoms often accompany this disorder as well.
Although there is no cure, patients can work with a physiotherapist to help maintain independence, manage pain and improve functioning. If you have scleroderma, here are five things you should do with your physiotherapist:
Stretching is a massively important part of dealing with scleroderma symptoms -- it helps you maintain your range of motion and strength. You should work with your physiotherapist to identify which areas need the most help, and you should focus on stretching all of those areas both by yourself and with the help of your therapist.
For example, many scleroderma patients lose some functioning of their hands. It often becomes difficult to do something as simple as opening a soft drink can. Patients' fingers often tighten up, and they experience reduced blood flow to their fingers and other extremities. For this reason, you need to stretch your hands.
Ideally, you should stretch your fingers out, touch your thumb to each fingertip and press your hands together while moving just your knuckles. Similar basic stretches should be done to invigorate the rest of your limbs.
2. Lung Expansion Exercises
Eighty percent of scleroderma patients experience issues with their lungs, and these issues are often what makes this disease deadly. Essentially, scleroderma hardens your organs, making it impossible to breathe if the disease progresses through your lungs. However, the right approach can help temper these symptoms. When you work with your physiotherapist, you need to focus on exercises that expand your lungs and improve your breathing.
Practise deep breathing -- simply lie on the floor and pay attention to the feeling of your lungs expanding as you slowly breathe in. Visualise your lungs filling with air, hold the breath for a moment and slowly exhale. Do these exercises during your physiotherapy sessions, but also do them on your own at least twice a day.
Also, try gentle aerobic activity. Walking and swimming are easy on the joints but also effective at improving circulation and lung activity.
Massage also helps with circulation and comfort levels, and it helps mobilise stiff connective tissue. Ask your physiotherapist to massage you, focusing on areas where you feel especially tight or restricted.
If you tend to feel cold most of the time, incorporate warmed massage oils into your routine. Don't just restrict massages to your physiotherapy sessions. Ask your physiotherapist how you can learn to massage yourself, or if you have a partner, bring him or her to one of your physiotherapy sessions for a quick primer on therapeutic massage techniques.
In addition to warmed oil, heat in other forms can also be used as part of your physiotherapy regime. Use hot water bottles or heating pads to ease pain in between sessions, and also consider applying heat to muscles before stretching or exercising. It makes them more supple, which ultimately makes exercise easier.
If possible, explore hydrotherapy with your physiotherapist. Gentle stretching or even some aerobic activity in a very warm therapy pool can be a salve, and as indicated above, the swimming can help you improve your lung functioning as well.
5. Paraffin Hand Bath
For use both in your physiotherapy sessions and at home, there are paraffin wax hand baths. These are simply containers that heat up paraffin wax. You place your hand into the warm wax, and let it gently soothe your tight skin and connective tissue. This has the same effect as applying heat, but studies show it also improves elasticity and stiffness.
Talk with a physiotherapist from a clinic like Pro-Fit Physio & Allied Health Centre if you have specific questions about therapy options.