If you’re one of the 1.5 million Americans living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you likely know the importance of medications in managing symptoms. But did you know that self-care strategies also play a significant role in the day-to-day management of RA?
RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that mainly affects the joints in your wrists, knees, and hands. When your immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, it causes inflammation. And this inflammation can cause pain, aching, stiffness, tenderness, and swelling in and around that joint.
There is no cure for RA, but a combination of medications, physical and occupational therapy, and lifestyle strategies can help minimize joint damage, enhance physical function, and improve quality of life.
Self-care looks different for each person. What works for you might not work for someone else, and that’s OK. There are a variety of things you can try to manage symptoms and improve your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.
How is your self-care plan for managing RA? Take this quick self-assessment to find out.
Trying new treatments if your current one is not working as well as you’d like is central to a self-care plan for RA.
If something feels off or you’re not getting the same relief anymore, make an appointment to see your doctor or healthcare team. Some signs to be aware of include an increase in symptom severity, new symptoms surfacing, and a general drop in your overall health and well-being.
While there may be no cure for RA, you have many options to treat it, including medications that slow disease progression.
Simple changes to your living environment can be a game changer for many people living with RA. While you don’t have to make drastic changes, adapting your home and daily routine to match your RA symptoms is a great place to start.
Here are some ideas:
Replace round doorknobs with lever door handles.
Use a shower chair and install large (easy-to-grip) grab bars in the shower and around the bathroom.
Install a raised toilet seat.
Use wide-handled hairbrushes, toothbrushes, and soap pumps.
Opt for a small handheld electric mixer instead of a spoon for stirring when baking.
Invest in a food processor to shred, chop, or dice food items.
Buy clothes that are easier to put on and take off — for example, elastic waist instead of zippers or buttons or Velcro instead of shoelaces.
Use a grabber tool to reach items that are stored in high spots.
Purchase smaller items when possible, so they’re easier to handle. Also replace heavier cookware with lighter items.
Swap your manual jar opener for an electric can opener.
If you need more ideas or you’re not sure how to get started, consider working with an occupational therapist. They can come to your home and help you design a plan specific to your needs.
Experts aren’t entirely sure how RA and gum disease are linked or if one comes before the other. But they are both chronic inflammatory diseases, and some research from 2016 suggests that the bacterium that causes chronic inflammatory gum disease also triggers the inflammatory autoimmune response of RA.
Regularly caring for your teeth and gums and seeing the dentist at least one to two times per year for regular checkups are part of a good dental hygiene plan.
If brushing and flossing are difficult due to stiff joints or painful hands, talk with your dentist about ways to make dental care easier and less painful.
Finding support through tools like podcasts or online groups or discussing struggles with a family member, friend, or loved one can help relieve stress.
Finally, if you’re dealing with more severe anxiety or depression, you may want to consider talking with a mental health professional.
We all experience stress, but too much stress can trigger RA flares.
While you’ll need to find what works best for you, some things to try include are:
deep breathing exercises
listening to music
spending time with your pets
making time for a hobby
reaching out for support from friends, family, loved ones, or a support group
Incorporating regular low to moderate intensity, weight-bearing activity into your day is a critical component of managing RA symptoms, according to the American College of Rheumatology. But so is adequate rest.
Unless a doctor has told you otherwise, aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least 5 days per week along with 2 days of strength training, the
Options for cardio exercise include:
low impact cardio machines like the elliptical
When your joints feel stiff, sore, or painful, that’s your cue to take a break, even if it’s just for the day. Also, pacing yourself and taking frequent rest breaks throughout the day can help stave off any major flare-up. If possible, schedule your physical activity during a time when you feel your best.
Hobbies are an essential part of any self-care routine. Unfortunately, setting aside money or making time to support something you enjoy is not always a priority.
If you already have a low budget hobby such as reading, putting together a puzzle, or gardening, just make sure to add it to your calendar.
That said, if your tastes require some financial planning, try to set aside money each month that is earmarked for things you enjoy. This could include hobbies that require a start-up or maintenance cost, such as collecting antiques, traveling, golfing, restoring older cars or bikes, or maintaining a home aquarium.Consider making a few changes to improve your self-care plan
It looks like you’d benefit from making some changes to boost your self-care plan. Self-care is a critical part of a treatment plan for RA.
Understanding how the disease works, what causes your flare-ups, and how to deal with them when they happen are key factors for reducing joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It’s not uncommon for RA symptoms to come and go, providing you with occasional relief from joint pain and stiffness.
That said, establishing a self-care routine that you follow regularly can help minimize symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. Take some time to brainstorm strategies that you think may help.
If you need help getting started, you can always try relaxation techniques or physical activity, reach out for support, or find a new hobby.NO RHEUM For RA Pain You’re doing this right
Taking care of yourself and following a treatment plan recommended by your doctor is a big part of living with RA. Based on your answers, it sounds like you’re doing well when it comes to managing RA symptoms and daily life in general.
Understanding how the disease works, what causes your flare-ups, and how to deal with them when they happen are key factors for reducing joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Continue to make an effort to follow a self-care plan, make adjustments as needed, and don’t be afraid to try new strategies.NO RHEUM For RA Pain