Hate Showering with Arthritis

The morning is always such a difficult time for me. I cannot sleep more than six hours without extra pain and stiffness in my back — it spasms and I can hardly stand up. I often need my cane just to get to the bathroom. I have to lie on my heating pad for about 30 minutes just to walk upright without my cane.

Over time, I’ve learned to build room into my morning routine to calm my back down so I can function. But then I have to shower before going to work.

For me, showering has always been a gauge for my disease activity. The more inflammation coursing through my body, the more difficult showers are and the longer it takes me to get ready in the morning. Not only do I have rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, but also fibromyalgia and neuropathy. My spine is compressing and I have lost several inches in my height. My back is in bad shape and I’ve spent the last six years accommodating that issue more than anything else. But recently, showering has become my number-one nemesis.

How a Simple Shower Can Ruin My Day

Showering has changed for me in the last year. I had one of the roughest years since I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2011. I came off one biologic and the NSAIDs that were keeping my inflammation barely at bay to start a different biologic that did not work for me and to which I had a small allergy. The transition almost drowned me in fatigue. (I actually created a series of artwork about fatigue because it was so bad and words were just not enough.)

I am now on my third biologic in a little less than a year. I am just now starting to come out of the bog of pain, fatigue, and inflammation that has been so bad that I created an art piece called ‘Boiling’ — to reflect the heat I feel when I am flaring.

I used to get hot and really fatigued from showering if I was flaring or had not slept enough. I would have to sit and rest on the bed before getting dressed. Sometimes if I had nowhere to go, I would just shower and then rest while wearing as little clothing as I could get away with because of skin sensitivity due to my fibro.

But then things changed for the worse.

When I would shower, I would run the risk of triggering an all-over body flare. Suddenly, my entire body would hurt so badly that I would want to scream and rip something apart out of anxiety and the sheer pain of it. The fatigue settled in my hips and lower back so that I had to sit before putting on any clothes. If I did not, the pain would roll over me like a snowball down the side of a mountain. And even then, sitting just delayed the pain.

I wasn’t simply overheating after a shower; I was hurting like my whole body got slammed in a car door.

On good days I could wake up in the morning feeling decent enough to move around, get dressed, and feel like I could actually get something accomplished. But if I showered, I would lose any and all of that valuable energy.

Pain would hit me and make me unable to do anything but sit on the couch, feeling numb and blank because brain fog took over my mind. I could not have conversations. I would not remember if someone had spoken to me. I would forget what I was supposed to be doing and sometimes even forget who I was for a moment.

My head and body would swirl in the emptiness of the pain, which felt like background noise that just got louder and louder inside my head until it felt like someone was screaming. The pain would get so bad that I could not think of anything or anyone else.

How I’ve Made Showering Less of a Nightmare

But … I can’t not shower. I was growing frustrated and angry that a daily act that is so soothing and restorative for most people had become the complete opposite for me.

So I decided to do something about it. This was just like anything else with my health; I needed to figure out some workarounds to make my life easier so I could function despite the struggle.

The following tips have helped me along the way, and I hope they can help you too.

Shower at night

This was a huge step for me. I have always showered in the morning as a way to start my day. Plus, I am so tired at night from trying to keep up during the day. I resisted showering at night because I thought it was going to be too much for me, but it actually turned out better.

I get to shower and then put on really soft, comfortable clothes and lie in bed watching TV or playing games. I am not rushed to go anywhere or do anything. If I am flaring it is okay because I will be lying down afterward anyway. This mentality relieved some stress and pressure for me. It has helped to make my evening routine work better.

Don’t shower every day in the winter

I use baby wipes to freshen up in the morning, reapply deodorant, and get dressed. It makes my mornings so much easier now because I have more room to manage my usual morning stiffness and without the fear of additional pain. It also means I get to preserve my energy for the rest of the day, which is huge because my energy levels are so limited.

Find alternative ways to wash or style hair

During the week, and as needed on the weekends, I still have to wash my hair regularly because it is so fine and thin. It looks oily and dirty without frequent washing. So, I have several choices:

  • Use dry shampoo
  • Wash my hair the night before in the shower and just rewet it in the morning and apply mousse
  • Don’t wash my hair the night before; in the morning, wash it in the sink really quickly.

These hair-washing options allow me to be adaptable to my energy levels and how much pain my back is in.

Use a handheld shower head

I have had an adaptable shower head with a hose for years now. It allows me to shower without bending over too much. It also helps me shower more quickly. Since I live in either rented houses or apartments I usually check if it is okay to install this. I have never had a problem with a landlord since this increases the value of the bathroom because I leave it when I move out.

Use a shower caddy that hangs from the shower head to store products

This helps because it keeps shampoo at arm level and reduces the need to bend over, which can trigger back pain or a flare.

Shave using an electric razor outside of the shower

Long gone are the days where I could stand in the shower and bend over to shave my legs, or even sit on the edge of a tub and shave. I purchased a small handheld razor that uses batteries. It allows me to shave my legs while sitting in a chair or shave my armpits standing at the bathroom sink.

Use a rolling chair in front of my vanity mirror

This adaptation has been a great way to combat how tired I can get while getting dressed. After a shower I put on lotion and use the chair to put my legs up so I don’t have to bend as much. I also use the chair when I put on makeup in the morning. I have a handheld mirror I use to look at my face close up, so I don’t have to lean into the mirror. This is just an all-around help for me in so many ways.

Find a body wash you love

Lastly, I use Dr. Teal’s Eucalyptus & Spearmint Epsom Salt Body Wash. This body wash, which comes in a variety of mild scents I can actually tolerate, helps calm my sensitive fibro skin. The smell is invigorating and calming for me. I feel like I get the benefits of Epsom salt without sitting in the bath. Taking a bath isn’t an option because I cannot safely get up and down out of a tub because of my knees. And sitting on my rear without a cushion will trigger pain so bad that I may struggle to walk or function for days.

I will also be getting an in-shower chair soon and am always looking for more ways to make my showering experience better. Will I ever be able to say that showering is an oasis in my day that I look forward to? Probably not. But as with anything else that my chronic illnesses have tried to rob from me, I’m proud to say that I’m finding ways to fight back.

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