27 Tips for Coping With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living with rheumatoid arthritis
About 1.3 million people in the U.S. have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a serious autoimmune disease that wreaks havoc on the joints (and other parts of the body). Here are some tips for coping with RA.
Protect your joints
You should always be thinking about your joints, even those that are currently symptom-free. And remember, no task is too small. Instead of lifting a heavy pot, slide it across the counter; use a shoulder to open a door rather than your hand; and hold books in the palm of your hands, not with your fingers.
Several studies suggest that people with RA may benefit from fish oil supplements, which contain inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. They're especially valuable to RA patients, who are said to have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
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.
Yoga's emphasis on stretching, whole-body well-being, and group involvement makes the practice especially relevant to some arthritis sufferers. Although the scientific evidence of arthritis-specific benefits is limited, it's still recommended by the Arthritis Foundation.
Stretch it out
Assuming you are pain-free, you should try to stretch all of your joints each day. A physical therapist or other physician can help tailor a stretching program for your needs. People with RA tend to feel stiffer in the morning than at other times of the day, so take a shower to warm up your joints, and then stretch to help loosen you up for the rest of the day.