Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be difficult — it’s something I know from experience. Having the right tools to help you manage can be essential to getting through the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic illness. Here are the specific tools and products that work for me or interest me, and where to find them.
Pain relief creams
When you have localized pain, a pain relief cream can provide almost instant relief. My favorite is Biofreeze, which has several different application options available. This is over-the-counter, so it’s not covered by insurance.
I’ve never tried any prescription-strength pain relief creams, but Biofreeze works extremely well for me. You should be able to find Biofreeze at major pharmacies or through online retailers.
A good pill case
A big part of managing RA is taking medications that help prevent joint damage and limit disease activity. Because most people with RA don’t take just one medication, it can be hard to keep track. I started using a pill case early on because I was getting confused about which medications I had already taken and didn’t want to double up.
I’m very picky about my pill cases. The one I currently use is by Port and Polish. It’s very discreet, and because it snaps shut, I don’t have to worry about it opening up and pills falling out in my bag. For more high tech pill cases, try Pill Drill.
An electric or weighted blanket
I had never owned an electric blanket and was given one at a conference. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to my RA. Whenever I’m flaring, I practically live under my heated blanket.
I haven’t used a weighted blanket, mainly because they are quite pricey, but I imagine that it would be helpful during a flare. There are many blankets of both types out there, so I think it’s mainly personal preference.
It’s possible to get a prescription for a weighted blanket. If you do, it’s worth checking to see if your insurance will cover it or if you can use your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to pay for it.
OXO makes kitchen products designed with ease-of-use in mind. I have many of their products because they have grips and are easy to use and not painful on my hands. They definitely tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but I’d rather pay a little bit more and be able to actually use my kitchen tools.
Medical alert bracelet
Life is unpredictable, especially when you have a chronic illness. A medical alert bracelet can provide you with the peace-of-mind that if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t communicate for yourself, medical professionals will have access to your most important health information. My favorite is Road ID. It’s practical, durable, and inexpensive.
Pricier options that look more like jewelry, and not like a traditional medical alert bracelet, are available from Lauren’s Hope. Medical alert bracelets generally aren’t covered by insurance, but the peace-of-mind is worth the price.
Cell phone holder
Cell phones are amazing pieces of technology, but it can get difficult to hold a phone if you have RA that affects your hands. A few solutions to this problem are unique holders that help you hold your phone, including PopSockets and iRing. They also allow you to prop up your phone so you can talk hands-free.
Have you ever been trying to make pasta but can’t get the jar of pasta sauce open? Have you, like me, been tempted to throw the jar against the wall? I can’t live without my jar gripper. These are pretty inexpensive, and an essential tool if you have RA and want to open jars.
Arthritis weather index tool
The Arthritis Foundation offers this handy Arthritis Index weather tool, based on a proprietary forecast by meteorologists at Accuweather.com.
By inputting your zip code into the tool, your local weather forecast will come up along with an arthritis index that will tell you what your joint pain will most likely be, based on the weather. There’s not much you can do to change the weather, but it can help you be prepared for your symptoms.
Medication delivery service
It can be frustrating having to go to a pharmacy multiple times per month to pick up your medications. Especially if you live somewhere that gets very cold in the winter, it can be helpful not to have to worry about having to run out in the cold to pick up your prescriptions. Pill Pack allows you to have your medications delivered to your door, prepackaged so that all of your pills are together for each time of day that you take medication.
I haven’t used this service because the dosages of my medication change often enough that it’s not worth it for me. But if I didn’t have that issue, I would definitely use a service like this one. There’s no additional charge for using the service, and they coordinate with most major insurance companies.
If you like the idea of having your medications packaged this way, but they change too often to make it worth it, you can also package them yourself using Pill Suite.
ArthritisPower is an app created by CreakyJoints that not only allows you to track your RA symptoms, but also to make your data available for research. That means you have a great way to track your symptoms, and you can also participate in research without having to leave your house or provide blood samples, or other information that might make people uncomfortable.
If you can’t find the support you need online, or you’re looking for that good old-fashioned in-person connection, you can join a support group. Information on local support groups is available by visiting Arthritis Introspective.
Note that these groups in your local community should be free-of-charge. If there isn’t a group in your area, Arthritis Introspective can also help you create a group if you’re feeling particularly motivated to get involved.
These are just some of the practical and more long-term items and tools that I’ve used or heard good things about from others. All have the potential to be helpful to people living with RA.
If you think one of these tools, products, or services might be useful to you, check it out. And remember to share your own tips, tricks, and tools with those of us who have RA, too, whether on social media or at a support group. Together, we can find more ways to manage the condition and make day-to-day life easier.
Leslie Rott was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in 2008 at the age of 22, during her first year of graduate school. After being diagnosed, Leslie went on to earn a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in health advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College. She authors the blog Getting Closer to Myself, where she shares her experiences coping with and living with multiple chronic illnesses, candidly and with humor. She is a professional patient advocate living in Michigan.