27 Tips for Coping With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living with rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disabling autoimmune disease that can be tricky to diagnose.
Protect your joints
Salmon is rich in protein, heart-helping omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Plus, this recipe is low in carbohydrates!
Exercise can give you more energy, improve your mood, and, most importantly, keep joint pain at bay if you feel physically capable of working out. Walking, cycling, swimming, and light weight training done three times a week for 30 minutes are options, but check with your doctor to make sure they are safe, and know your limits. Don't exercise when joints are inflamed; take a break if you feel pain; and alternate positions periodically when performing tasks such as gardening or cooking.
Smoking is a lifestyle factor that is known to increase the risk of RA. It is also associated with more severe symptoms and joint damage in those who have been diagnosed with the condition.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy that helps people identify problems in the way they think and act and encourages them to change their behavior, can be helpful if you have RA, especially if you are suffering from depression. Counseling can also help you cope with the other stresses and strains of chronic illness.
Here’s a way to try and combat the harmful effects of sitting without leaving your desk.
Stretch it out
This figure four stretch targets the outer sides of the hips and thighs.
Don't worry about alcohol
If you have RA, it seems fine to drink in moderation. Research suggests that people with RA who drink alcohol may have less severe symptoms than those who do not.
Train your mind and body
Mind-body therapies help you use your mind to make your body feel better. These approaches can include mindfulness meditation, biofeedback, breathing exercises, and guided relaxation. Certain types of exercisesuch as yoga, qigong, and tai chialso encourage you to focus your mind in ways that can help you cope with pain, and improve strength and flexibility at the same time.
One study found that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet reported an improvement in RA symptoms, including pain score, morning stiffness, and grip strength. But if you enjoy eating meat, focus on getting more greens on your plate. The antioxidants, such as those found in green peas and broccoli, may protect against tissue damage around the joints caused by free radicals.
Having a chronic illness can be isolating, but being open about your condition can help. Feeling comfortable asking for help when you need itor just having a shoulder to cry oncan make a big difference in how you feel, both physically and mentally. Online and real-life support groups are great places to meet other people with RA and share coping strategies.
Give it a rest
It’s important to devote your time to what makes you healthy and happy – and sometimes that means knowing when to rest. Call a friend, take a walk, get a massage – and watch this video for Tracy’s take on how to make the most of your rest day. Sign up for Tracy's 30-Day Core Challenge to tone and tighten your body in just 4 weeks.
Get your eyes checked
It's time to get wise about your eyes: Redness, itching, watering, grittiness...whatever your symptom is, watch this video for solutions to help you see clearly again.
Consider occupational therapy
This type of therapy can be a good bridge to a regular exercise plan. OT helps people live as independently and fully as possible, no matter what his or her age or condition. An occupational therapist will work with you to identify problem areas in your daily life and figure out ways to eliminate them, or work around them.
Do strength training
Studies have shown that moderate- or high-intensity strength training can help increase or maintain muscle strength for people with RA. Another study reports that a program of long-term, high-intensity weight-bearing exercises improves the functional ability, physical capacity, and emotional status of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Check your vitamins
Vitamin B12 helps your body produce DNA and red blood cells, supports your immune system, and encourages healthy nerve function. Watch the video to learn which foods are high in this essential nutrient.
Take a warm bath or shower
Moist heat provides relief from rheumatoid arthritis pain by loosening muscles, tendons, and ligaments, as well as increasing blood flow. So taking a warm bath or shower can be a real relaxation session. Also, moist heating pads, available at most pharmacies, can be applied for 10 to 15 minutes at a time for temporary pain relief.
Look into physical therapy
Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to help heal and strengthen a body part or an area that's "acting up" and giving you problems, but it's typically a short-term option. PT is a terrific bridge to an exercise program, though. You can work with your physical therapist to come up with a workout plan that's right for you.
Think about what you're eating
Food sensitivities, especially to dairy and shrimp, may aggravate rheumatoid arthritis. Some people try elimination diets, which involve removing all potential allergens from your diet and slowly adding these foods back to see if they trigger symptoms. But there are significant variations within any individual's symptoms in a given time period, making it difficult to study the effects of these diets.
Take fish oil
Fish oil can ease pain and inflammation. In fact, fish-oil capsules may be as effective for relieving pain and inflammation as drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. RA patients in studies that found fish oil helpful took high doses, typically 4 grams a day or four standard capsules.
Get a massage
Depending on how your body is feeling, massages can be wonderfulor agonizing. If your joints and muscles aren't feeling too tender, massages can ease muscle tension related to joint stress. You will be the best judge of whether massage can help you on a particular day, or not. So give it a try! But make sure your massage therapist has experience in treating people with RA.
Consider a cane
A lot of people think a cane signifies disability, but if it helps reduce joint pain, who cares? Canes are easy to find and use and can take up to 20% of your body weight off of your legs, hips, and ankles.
Check out acupuncture
Some people say this ancient Eastern healing technique can trigger the body to release the "feel-good" hormones known as endorphins, thus reducing pain. But skeptics believe it's just the placebo effect. Only a handful of small studies have shown that acupuncture can help with RA symptoms. Still, many people swear by acupuncture, and there's really no downside to giving it a tryunless you're scared of needles.
Use the right tools
Some equipment can help make everyday tasks less painful. Products like pens, knives, can openers, and zipper pulls are available to help you protect your joints. And good news! You don't always have to look in specialty stores for them. Many tools are designed simply to make them easier to usekitchen tools with large handles, ergonomic can openers, and large drawer pulls.
Plug into community
Beyond social support, getting active in a community of other people with rheumatoid arthritis can be empowering. Even if you just read blogs, instead of writing one, it can help you feel less isolated. Kelly Young launched her blog, Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior, after being diagnosed with RA at age 40.
Because you can't foresee joint flare-ups, it's a good idea to be prepared and plan for problems before they happen. Make sure any activity you start is one that you can end partway through. Break chores up into sections, and when exercising, you don't have to do 30 minutes at once.
Don't feel guilty
If you have to give up some tasks, like making the bed or washing the dishes, don't feel guilty! When you're tired and in pain, it's not your fault. Do the things you must do or really want to do, and find other ways to get less important things done.