Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis Around the Clock

Need all day pain relief? We’ve got you covered! Learn how to manage your RA symptoms, day in and day out.

Winnie Yu

These ideas can help you get through your day with less rheumatoid arthritis (RA)-related stiffness and pain—and more moment-by-moment satisfaction!

7 am: Stretch! As soon as you open your eyes, sit up in bed and reach for your toes. This will loosen your lower back and hamstrings, and help relieve morning stiffness. Then, carefully swing your legs over the side of the bed and, while seated, reach for your toes again, raising your toes up toward your fingertips. This helps stretch the back of the legs, feet and ankles. Then, stand up, extend your arms straight out from your sides and create large circles, first forward, then backward.

8 am: Swap! Skip the chocolate-chip muffin or donut. Reach instead for oatmeal topped with blueberries. This will help cut down on inflammation-producing saturated fat. Blueberries also contain anthocyanins and resveratrol, both of which are compounds that fight inflammation.   

10 am: Say “om.” Regular meditation can reduce pain by helping you break the pain-anticipation cycle. That’s when you worry about pain you’ll feel in the future—which intensifies the pain unnecessarily. Meditation also teaches you to stay calm, which further enhances your ability to cope with pain.

12 pm: Write it, then eat it. Keeping a food diary is an excellent way to learn what foods to avoid. Some people with RA, for instance, say their symptoms get worse when they consume nightshade vegetables—tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and sweet and hot peppers. And researchers have learned that foods high in omega-6 fatty acids—egg yolks, red meat and oils used in many snack foods—are linked to increasing joint inflammation. Keep careful track to see which foods make you feel better or worse.

2 pm: Reach out. Social support helps you to maintain a positive state of mind. It’s okay to vent occasionally!  

3 pm: Take a walk. Regular walking (about 30 minutes a day) reduces RA pain by lubricating the joints. Walking also is a weight-bearing exercise that helps to improve bone strength. It helps you maintain good posture, as well, which relieves stress on your joints.

8 pm: Tune in and work out. Before you settle in to enjoy your favorite TV show, grab some light hand weights. Do bicep and tricep curls, march in place, and do a few leg lifts—either sitting on the floor or in a chair. You can give your legs an even better workout by adding light ankle weights. Doing half an hour of strength training a few times a week will make it easier to get around and climb stairs.

9 pm: Try tai chi moves. Before going to bed, wind down mentally and physically with a few of these flowing movements. In addition to being enjoyable—and beautiful—this ancient Chinese exercise form improves balance and helps reduce pain and stiffness. Because it involves slow, rhythmic breathing and gentle movements, it’s also a great way to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep!  To find out more about tai chi, check out some of the many books and videos you’ll find online or at the library.  

Our round-the-clock RA tips are provided by Jan K. Richardson, PT, PhD, OCS, chair of the practice committee for the American College of Rheumatology; Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association; and Christopher Brown, PhD, a researcher at the University of Manchester, England.

April 2013