Tips & tricks for our athletes
There are a couple extra things to think about on game day as an athlete with an autoimmune disease. Proper preparation is very important for success. This starts with taking care of your body before any other game day preparations begin. Making sure you get enough sleep, are well hydrated and have properly fueled your body are the first steps to feeling good on game day while having an autoimmune disease. From here, it becomes about managing symptoms as best you can so that you can focus on your competition. Using a heating pad or a red light therapy band before warmups begin can help loosen up any problem areas and get your body ready to compete. Right before and during competition, biofreeze or tiger balm can help with any particularly achy or painful areas. After competition ends, it is important to properly recover with ice, compression, and lots of water and rest.
If you think you might have an autoimmune disease, the first step is to talk to your doctor about getting an ANA test, which is a blood test that detects any antinuclear antibodies present within your blood. Antinuclear antibodies often attack healthy tissues in your body, which is the foundation of autoimmune disease. Having a positive ANA result does not automatically mean you have an autoimmune disease, but if you have symptoms that are in line with one or more autoimmune diseases, this test would be the first indicator. There are many different autoimmune diseases, but common general symptoms include joint and muscle pain, fatigue, recurring fever, digestive issues, headaches, joint swelling, skin rashes, and others. Overall, if you think there is a chance you are suffering from an autoimmune disease, it is important to communicate with your doctor and express any concerns you may have.
Sometimes when your body is in a flare it can feel like the world is against you and that you are losing the battle. Flares are frustrating, and even when it feels like we are doing everything right, they can still happen. The most important step you can take is to keep some sort of journal or log to track your flares and any extenuating circumstances surrounding them. This includes things like weather, how much you slept, what you ate, stress levels, and other things of that nature. While this may feel like a monotonous task, it can help you to pinpoint any common trend in a controllable factor in your life that is causing havoc within your body.
The most beneficial thing you can do for doctor's appointments is to keep notes about any changes that have occurred during the time between appointments. Designate a notebook or even a note page on your phone to keep track of anything that you want to discuss with your doctor so that you do not have to try and recollect everything that has happened on the spot. Additionally, bring that notebook with you to your appointments so that you can write down any important information given to you and not have to worry about remembering details later. If you have any visible symptoms, i.e. swelling, discoloration, etc., take photos to show your doctor so they have a visual of what you are explaining. Lastly, consider bringing a family member, friend, coach, or someone you trust with you to your appointment, especially if it is early on in your diagnosis. It can be helpful to have a second pair of ears to ask questions, process information, or just be there as a support system.
If you know of an athlete that has an autoimmune disease, know that it can be very isolating. The best thing you can do for them is ask them questions. It can be very difficult for athletes with an autoimmune disease to verbalize what they are going through out of fear of being misunderstood, treated differently, or from an overall feeling of being overwhelmed. By asking questions about what they go through and how you can help them, you are giving them control in how best to fit their needs, as everybody's preferences are a little different. Even if they decline your help, researching their illness or checking in on them from time to time can make all the difference in their mental and emotional health. Having an open line of communication, however different that may look from person to person, is very helpful when it comes to the care and management of an autoimmune disease for your child, athlete, or teammate.