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Chronic conditions

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How to manage your chronic condition

With an acute injury or illness, you may need some treatment, but you know you’ll be feeling better and back to normal functioning in a short amount of time.

A chronic condition or disease is different. It often never goes away. A chronic condition can disrupt your life both physically and mentally. Certain symptoms can make you feel isolated, causing you to withdraw from your usual activities and social groups.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are many treatment options available that can help those living with chronic conditions, letting you get back to the business of living a full life.

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What is a chronic condition?

A chronic condition is a persistent injury, disease, pain or illness that produces ongoing symptoms, often getting worse over time. Symptoms of a chronic condition can inhibit your daily activities, sleep patterns and more.

According to the Health Council of Canada, about 50% of all Canadians are living with at least one chronic health condition.

Chronic health conditions list

Chronic health conditions refer to a wide range of injuries, diseases, illnesses and pain that are ongoing. Some of the most common chronic health conditions include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Incontinence
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Hypertension

Common symptoms

Symptoms of chronic conditions vary greatly, depending on your specific diagnosis. General symptoms can include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Stiffness
  • Aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint instability
  • Constant fatigue
  • Muscle and joint weakness
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of appetite

What is chronic pain?

Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. However, the pain should stop when an injury heals.

Chronic pain is any pain that lasts for three to six months or longer. Your nerve signals continue to fire, telling your brain there’s a problem, even after a specific injury has healed. It can be the result of a chronic condition or past surgery.

Chronic pain can occur every day or in waves that come and go. This can feel like a dull ache, throbbing, burning, shooting, squeezing, stinging, soreness or stiffness.

This type of pain can have a negative effect on your mental health and your ability to perform daily activities.

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Chronic condition management

Chronic condition management, sometimes called chronic disease management, refers to the ongoing care and support for those with a chronic health condition. It typically involves medical care, knowledge, skills and resources from a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals, such as your family physician, physiotherapist, massage therapist and more. Community-based programs and services may also be a part of your overall management plan.

The goal of chronic condition management is not to pursue a cure, but to slow or halt the progression of your condition and optimize your health.

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Physiotherapy for chronic conditions

Physiotherapy is an important part of the management of chronic conditions, treating current symptoms and preventing future health problems. Your therapist will develop a customized treatment plan to address your current needs and future concerns.

Physiotherapy treatment may include some of the following:

  • Exercise prescription to improve strength, range of motion, balance and coordination
  • Supervised exercise for maintaining or losing weight
  • Manual therapy (such as trigger point therapy and active release) to relieve pain
  • Mobility aids, equipment and at-home services to help you live more independently

Sometimes group classes, supervised by a physiotherapist, are also included in therapy programs for chronic conditions.

A key element of physiotherapy is getting you to play an active role in your treatment. There is often an emphasis on education to help you understand your chronic condition and how treatment will help.

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Benefits of physiotherapy

Physiotherapy for chronic health conditions can help decrease your pain, inflammation and shortness of breath. It can improve the strength and function of your joints and muscles, so you can move more with less discomfort. Such positive changes can also boost your confidence and outlook on life, helping you maintain social connections—a big part of your overall well-being.

Occupational therapy for chronic conditions

Occupational therapy helps those with chronic conditions live as independently as possible by teaching you ways to self-manage at work, home and during recreational activities.

Occupational therapists can help you learn new ways to cook, get dressed and complete daily chores around the house that work with your abilities and don’t aggravate your condition. They may teach you exercises and stretches to improve your posture, joint mobility, strength and flexibility.

Therapists can often make home or workplace visits to assess your environment and make recommendations for changes that will help with daily activities or job tasks. For any family members or caregivers involved, your therapist can provide guidance and education to give them a better understanding of how they can help.

Occupational therapists can also fit you for hand splints (common for conditions like arthritis), as well as provide instructions on how and when to use them or other assistive devices.

Occupational therapy is often one part of your overall management plan, which will involve different services, resources and medications.

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What are my coverage options?

Depending on your age and the circumstances of your condition, you could be eligible for coverage for your therapy services from an extended health insurance provider or a government program—especially if you have a referral from your doctor. It’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider or government medicare resource before booking your first appointment.

Most clinics can help you determine your coverage options and the necessary channels for reimbursement, if you do need to pay out of pocket.