Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder, meaning its underlying cause is the immune system mistakenly attacking your body’s own tissues. A chronic inflammatory disorder, RA primarily affects the lining of joints and the connective tissues, though other areas of the body can also be impacted.
This article is written in collaboration with MyHealthTeams (MyHealthTeams creates social networks for communities of people facing chronic conditions).
This article is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health-related diagnosis or treatment options. The information here should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional.
RA can cause symptoms such as painful joint swelling and damage, as well as others like rheumatoid arthritis rash and fatigue. Early phases of RA tend to affect smaller joints first, including the joints that connect your fingers and hands and your toes and feet, usually on both sides of the body. Inflammation and joint damage often spreads to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders as RA progresses. All of these symptoms can take a toll on your health and quality of life, so taking steps to manage the condition is important.
In addition to taking your doctor-prescribed medication consistently, you have the power to help manage your everyday life with RA. The right tactics and tools can help get you through some of the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic illness like RA.
Introduce Assistive Devices
Stiffness, aches, and fatigue are common RA symptoms that can get in the way of how and when you do everyday tasks such as cleaning up, feeding yourself, and taking care of yourself.
For instance, if RA flares affect your hands or fingers, using your cell phone, standard kitchen utensils, or household gadgets may become harder. Fortunately, an occupational therapist can help you identify adaptive devices and techniques to help you manage your condition, even when your symptoms are at their worst.
For example, some people with RA find switching to larger pens and pencils with a wider diameter make writing easier. Tools like the pop socket and iRing can help you use your phone hands-free or allow you to hold the device more easily. Gadgets also exist to help you open everything from tricky pickle jars to slippery, twist-off sauce tops.
Redo Your Bathing Routine
For bathing, you might put a stool or chair in your shower to help conserve your energy and take pressure off your joints while you get clean. Try switching out your shower head for a grippy hand-held one to make washing easier. You can also make aromatherapy and a warm bath part of your bedtime relaxation rituals to soothe both your body and mind.
Loosen Up and Stay Limber With Exercise
Being sedentary tends to contribute to joint stiffness and long-term joint problems. If you’re living with RA, movement can be good for you—avoiding sitting or standing in the same position for long stretches can make a difference to your RA symptoms. For instance, when you’re driving or at your desk working, remember to stop to get up or stretch every half hour or so. Just flexing your hands and fingers periodically can help you keep up your range of motion and manage RA-related stiffness.
When you’re stiff and in pain, working out can seem like the last thing you should or want to do, but remember that gentle movement may be helpful. Gentler exercises like tai chi and yoga may help with your balance and mobility, ease your pain and fight fatigue. Regular physical activity has also been shown to have a positive effect on one’s general health, mood, and overall quality of life.
When exercising and stretching, always listen to your body and make any modifications you need to minimize joint stress and avoid pain.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
When you’re living with RA, it’s important to balance the need to be active with the need to get ample rest and relaxation for your body and mind alike.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and breathing. It is an effective stress reduction technique that may improve mood and help take your thoughts away from your pain. Practicing mindfulness may help people with RA relax and thus cope better with pain and other symptoms. Regular mindful meditation may also reduce pain intensity and other RA symptoms and lower the risk of depression.
Keep Trying and Adjusting
While RA doesn’t have a cure currently, a holistic treatment approach, personalized to you, your condition, and your lifestyle, is the best way to manage RA symptoms, slow disease progression, and reduce the frequency of your flares. Here’s what to remember when approaching techniques for managing your rheumatoid arthritis:
- Work closely with your healthcare team to design and customize a treatment plan that meets your needs as they arise and change during your RA journey.
- Make small lifestyle shifts towards healthier habits—maintaining your physical and mental health is an important part of your RA treatment.
- Adjust for and adapt to RA creatively, even if RA makes doing things the way you used to do them challenging sometimes. You’re not alone in RA, and a solution to your problem may already exist.
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