Rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain: Where can you find local support groups?

For people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or newly diagnosed with RA, support groups can offer an opportunity to speak with others who experience similar concerns, struggles, and frustrations. Support groups can help reduce negative thoughts and feelings, and also provide useful information.1 But how do you find the right group or even start your own? 

Different types of support groups

If you are in the market for a local RA support group, understand there are a variety of formats. Professionally led groups run by competent leaders such as nurses, social workers, or trained facilitators, usually involve a therapeutic and/or educational element. These groups provide structured meetings and aim to keep the sessions positive and helpful.2

Alternatively, peer-led groups can take on many forms: program-based; open-ended discussions;3 or combined lectures from healthcare professionals followed by group discussions. All groups have advantages, and many times it’s simply a matter of finding one that feels right.

How to find a local support group

It may not be easy to find an RA-specific support group. Broaden your search to include groups that deal with chronic pain instead of the condition itself. While conditions vary, common bonds tend to exist such as pain and the emotions it causes. You can find chronic pain support groups in hospitals, standalone pain centers, and HMO clinics. Additionally, try some of the suggestions below as you start your search:4

  • Ask your healthcare providers if they have any recommendations
  • Check with your local hospital(s) about support groups for patients with arthritis or chronic pain
  • Call your local Arthritis Foundation office as a resource for their groups and/or exercise programs (http://www.arthritis.org)
  • Check the American Self-Help Group Clearinghouse website (http://healthfinder.gov)
  • Call the local chapter of the American Chronic Pain Association (http://www.theacpa.org)
  • Look through your local telephone book or newspaper listings
  • Contact trusted local community centers, libraries, hospitals, or houses of worship for a list of support resources
  • Search www.meetup.com and use key words such as “arthritis support group” or “chronic pain support group”

Keep in mind that group diversity can be beneficial. People who have already walked-the-walk have a lot to teach people, especially those with a new diagnosis. If you’re hesitant, speak to group leaders and members, and attend a few meetings. It’s perfectly acceptable to shop around until you find one that’s a good fit.5

Lastly, don’t rule out therapeutic exercise groups (e.g., aquatic programs, gentle yoga) as an alternative or supplement to support groups. (Always check with your healthcare provider first.) These exercise programs frequently have a strong social support element. Also, most participants have something in common (arthritis or chronic pain) and they all “get it.”

Start a new support group

It’s possible that you won’t find a group that matches your exact needs. But don’t give up! Think about starting your own support group. It’s a lot of work and responsibility, so make sure you’re ready for the challenge.

First, get a sense of what types of groups (if any) are offered in your area. If there is already a general support group, then think about creating a more specific one such as “early arthritis” or “young mothers with chronic pain.” Also, try to find out if there is a strong need for a group. You’ll want to maximize the benefits by making sure more than a few people show up for meetings.

Next, talk to facilitators or check out some websites that offer instructions for starting a support group. For instance, the American Chronic Pain Association has a facilitator guide and accompanying video to provide assistance and ongoing support for its members who want to start a group.6

Once the basics are setup you can start to spread the word about your new group:7

  • Promote meetings through websites (e.g., www.meetup.comwww.creakyjoints.org)
  • Create a Facebook page to share information about upcoming meetings
  • Ask local healthcare providers, pain clinics, houses of worship, libraries, and community centers if you can post or distribute flyers
  • Place an ad in your local newspaper

Remember, whatever group format you decide is best, be careful about taking advice from another person without first checking with your healthcare provider. What works for one person, may not work for another.

Support groups can be a valuable resource to help deal with RA issues. Be sure to express yourself honestly and share your compassion with others.

 

References

1. Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.). Support groups: Make connections, get help. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/support-groups/MH00002

2. Powers, K. A. J. (n.d.). Can support groups help you cope? Retrieved from http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-to-expect/life-changes/arthritis-support-groups.php

3. Ibid.

4. Creakyjoints.org. (n.d.). Face-to-face arthritis support groups. Retrieved from http://www.creakyjoints.org/health-and-advice/face-to-face-arthritis-support-groups

5. Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.). Support groups: Make connections, get help. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/support-groups/MH00002

6. American Chronic Pain Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.theacpa.org/product.aspx?guid=b99ae3d3-9a01-44de-8a5e-690f579f4a8b

7. Creakyjoints.org. (n.d.). Face-to-face arthritis support groups. Retrieved from http://www.creakyjoints.org/health-and-advice/face-to-face-arthritis-support-groups