10 tips for managing rheumatoid arthritis pain

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If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, you aren’t alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 4 American adults has some type of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis.

Dealing with the discomfort can be challenging both physically and mentally. But there are steps you can take to find some relief.

Understanding arthritis symptoms

Arthritis is a medical condition that affects your joints, causing inflammation and discomfort. There are a few different types, and all can cause joint-related symptoms that may include pain, stiffness, redness, swelling, tenderness, and warmth around the affected joint(s). These symptoms range in severity and can disrupt a person’s daily life.

People who have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the immune system, may experience additional symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis typically impacts multiple joints and parts of the body at one time. It may also cause weight loss, fever, extreme fatigue, and weakness.

Steps you can take to manage arthritis

If you’re dealing with arthritis, there are ways to find relief. Try incorporating some — or all — of these tips into your daily life:

1. Move your body.

Although exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you’re experiencing arthritis pain, it can help. Moving your body can decrease stiffness in your joints and improve your range of motion.

Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That may seem like a lot, but it breaks down to about 22 minutes of movement each day. Choose low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, or water aerobics, to get your body moving without putting too much pressure on your joints.

2. Get to a healthy weight.

Being overweight or obese is both a risk factor for developing arthritis and a contributing factor for arthritis pain. Losing a few pounds can help put less pressure on your joints, which can reduce discomfort. A healthy weight is different for everyone. Talk with your provider about a good target weight for you.

3. Watch your posture.

Whether you’re dealing with arthritis in the hands or arthritis in the knee, focusing attention on your posture may help. Think about how you normally sit and stand each day. When you’re sitting at a desk, for example, do you lean forward and hunch? Or are you seated with your feet planted firmly on the floor in front of you with your computer screen at eye-level?

Sitting and standing with correct posture can take pressure off your joints, which can alleviate discomfort. If you aren’t sure what correct posture looks like, consider working with a physical therapist to develop good habits.

4. Quit smoking.

What does smoking have to do with arthritis? A lot. Smoking can harm the bones, joints, and connective tissues, and it’s a known contributor to rheumatoid arthritis complications.

In a study of women with rheumatoid arthritis, those who currently or previously smoked had more severe symptoms and joint damage than women who never smoked. If you smoke, talk with a provider about a cessation strategy.

5. Find a healthy balance between movement and rest.

You’ve heard about work-life balance, but when you’re dealing with arthritis, you also need to find a good balance between activity and rest. Aim to be physically active every day but pay careful attention to your body.

If you feel like you’re pushing your limits too much, pause and rest.

6. Take medications as prescribed.

Treating arthritis may include oral and topical medications, such as anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, to alleviate discomfort. For people who have rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, a provider may also recommend a type of medication known as a biologic, which works on your body’s immune system response.

7. Make time for relaxing activities.

While arthritis causes a range of potential physical symptoms, it can also impact you mentally and emotionally. To help alleviate the stress associated with arthritis, find strategies to help yourself relax. Strategies may include meditation and yoga, but it may also include taking up hobbies like sewing or even birdwatching. Find something that brings you joy.

8. Try applying heat or cold.

There’s a debate over whether it’s better to ice an injury or apply heat to it, but not when it comes to joint pain. Both heat and cold have a place in providing relief. Try briefly applying heat using a heating pad or a hot bath to help temporarily relieve pain. Use cold, like ice packs, when you’ve been physically active and feel sore as a result.

9. Be strategic about what you eat.

Consider what you’re eating. Fill your plate with foods known to fight inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation recommends increasing your intake of soy, extra-virgin olive oil, cherries, low-fat dairy, broccoli, green tea, citrus fruits, whole grains, beans, garlic, and omega-3-rich fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna. Most of those foods are particularly effective for those who have rheumatoid arthritis.

10. Find emotional outlets.

Arthritis is tough on the body, but it’s also tough on the mind. Surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with. Your support team will probably include friends and family, but you may also find talking with a therapist helpful. Ultimately, easing your mind can also help ease the pain in your body.

Is the pain of arthritis getting to be too much? The specialists and medical team at Reid Health Comprehensive Bone & Joint Center have solutions to help.

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