Fitness instructor Gareth’s tips for managing pain09 May 2023
Gareth, 40, is a fitness instructor based in Northern Ireland. He experienced severe injuries after being in a car accident in 2015 and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis a few years later.
Gareth’s arthritis diagnosis has had a huge impact on his life. From being unable to work to feeling worried about meeting the expectations of being a father, living with arthritis has presented its challenges.
Despite this, Gareth is incredibly passionate about motivating people with long-term conditions, and recently took part in a Versus Arthritis self-management course in Northern Ireland to learn more about managing pain.
Now a fitness instructor with his own business, Gareth tells us what he has learnt both from the course and his own experiences and shares his tips for managing pain.
“I experience a lot of pain, and that has its own effects of fatigue. I’m only 40 and I still try to live an active lifestyle and go to the gym and work and do family things.
But it takes me more effort to do the things that people without conditions take for granted. You have to throw more energy into those activities.
“Everyone makes the mistake of if you’re having a good day, you do too much and then the next few days you suffer (this is known as ‘all or bust’).
"It’s important to pace, plan, and set yourself realistic goals."
"Action-plan your week so you know what you’re going to do that day and leave yourself enough energy for the things you have and want to do in the rest of the week. It’s important to read the signs of when you’re starting to get fatigued and when you want to stop.
“Sometimes you’ve got to set limitations – if you can’t do as much today you can always do more tomorrow. For anyone who’s experienced anything like [arthritis], it never goes away, but you have to cope with it.”
“When I found out I had chronic arthritis, I had this feeling of, ‘am I going to be able to get past this point?’ While injuries are acute and you can heal, I realised this is something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life.
“My mental health was affected. I wouldn’t say as far as depression, but I had a lot of low moods and things like that.
“There are a lot of good things about distraction. It’s a very good thing if you’re experiencing pain or low mood.
Mental distractions can get you through short periods. Long term distractions such as things that give you joy or organising something for the future are very good too. They help you understand the pacing and planning side of life.
Do a self-management course
“People with arthritis sometimes feel their health professionals don’t understand what they’re going through or what treatments to prescribe, but luckily my GP referred me to Versus Arthritis for the self-management course.
“Over 6 weeks, we learned techniques that helped me deal with my condition on a day-to-day basis. The programme left me with a collection of self-management skills to help with diet, exercise, pacing and planning and coping with low mood and depression.
"What was supposed to be a “stop-gap” service while I was on a waiting list completely changed my life.
"I knew I wanted to share what I had learned and was encouraged to become a self-management instructor. Now, I’m proud to say I deliver this life altering course to dozens of people with a variety of health conditions every year, giving me a new outlook and purpose.
“I am not saying that self-management is a substitute for joint replacement surgery – the operations are still needed (and needed much quicker), but it can be life changing. They help people take control of their day-to-day life and mental and physical wellbeing.
“The self-management course was great for me, and I was very lucky to get on that soon after my diagnosis. There was a quote they said on the course: ‘lows are not pits that need to be crawled out of, but part of the natural highs and lows of life’.”
“The biggest thing I got from the course was the importance of physical activity and exercise, hence now why I’m trained to do alternative exercises that are ideal for people with long-term conditions.
“Staying physically active was a big thing for me. Here in Northern Ireland, I teach online on a Tuesday night. There’s also a group called On Your Feet – it’s like line dancing but I don’t call it that because I refuse to play country and western music!
"I volunteer for Versus Arthritis doing the classes to groups here and I also do them privately for a few other charities and children’s groups.
“The automatic thought a lot of people have is that they’re afraid of physical activity – they think it’s going to exacerbate their situation and their pain.
"All my classes can be done seated or standing, and they can be as low key or energetic as you want.
"The key is to keep yourself moving. You’ll do more harm to yourself sitting down than you will do standing up. "It’s getting that through to people – exercising isn’t a bad thing. It’s going to make you feel better, you’ll get those endorphins pumping through.
“All the group classes help you to meet people and make friends, especially the drumming and dancing. There’s a sense of community when you do these things.
"If everyone’s playing a big drum at the same time or dancing together in a circle you get that sense of community. That’s kind of why I do it – to put that message across. You’ll get loads from it, not only physically but also mentally.”
We’re here to help
More information about our Northern Ireland services, including local branches, community groups and self-management courses, can be found here.
We also have lots of resources to help, educate and motivate and people with arthritis to find an exercise routine that works for them:
- Try Let’s Move with Leon, a 12-week programme consisting of 30-minute sessions designed to help you improve mobility, posture, balance, cardiovascular and respiratory fitness and strength.
- Join our Let’s Move Facebook group, a space where people share their experiences of staying active when living with arthritis.
- Sign up to our Let’s Move newsletter to receive advice and top tips on how to stay active with arthritis.