What’s Your RA Challenge?

Get help with your biggest RA struggles straight from the people who deal with them daily.

Judy Messina
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If it feels like the aches, pains and fatigue of RA are forcing you to give up the things you love and are making you miss out on fun, take heart: We asked real-life folks with RA for the strategies that help them live a rich, full life. Read on to steal their solutions!

RA challenge: getting sidelined
Carrick Porter was diagnosed with RA when he was only 9—just as he was in the middle of tryouts for his school’s ice hockey team. “One day I couldn’t put my skates on, my feet were so swollen,” Carrick recalls. “I got them on but when I got on the ice I couldn’t move.” Yet he refused to let that first bout with RA keep him benched. 

Stay-in-the-game strategies
Say yes to the things you love. It will boost your energy and keep you positive. Experts agree: “Anybody who has the attitude that the glass is half full is going to do better,” says Patience White, MD, Arthritis Foundation chief public health officer. In fact, a study in the Journal of Nursing found that RA patients who continue doing the things they love report an increased sense of well-being.

Drink H2O. “When I’m well-hydrated, my energy level tends to be higher,” notes Carrick, who stays pumped by drinking water and steering clear of sugary drinks. And preliminary studies back him up: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin suspect that a diet high in simple carbs like sugar promotes inflammation, a key feature of RA.

RA challenge: pain management
In the 25 years he’s lived with RA, Dan Malito has gone through 20 to 30 different meds to find the few that work. But today, he’s got it under enough control that he’s starting a new career as a writer, and has tricks for keeping pain to a minimum.

Ache-erasing strategies
Take showers. Dan jumps into a hot shower every morning and sometimes takes a second one later in the day. The heat helps relax muscles and loosen up stiff and sore joints. It also increases blood flow and improves your range of motion. 

“See it” to soothe it. When Dan needed an MRI last year, he had to spend three hours in a cramped machine. He took his meds, but they weren’t enough to keep the pain under control. So Dan closed his eyes, imagined sitting on a beach and managed to take himself away from the situation. It didn’t eliminate the pain, but in the end he was able to get through the ordeal. How does it help? Visualization creates a kind of out-of-body experience. “You’re focusing on something other than the pain,” says Kevin Fontaine, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

RA challenge: multitasking mayhem
The mother of two active boys and an RA patient since she was 8 years old, Jennifer Vido leads a busy life as a volunteer, author, columnist and book reviewer. Amazingly, the more she does, the easier it all seems to get—despite RA.  

Getting-it-all-done strategies
Commandeer help.
If Jennifer has grocery shopping on her schedule, she makes sure to bring along her two sons, who are 10 and 15, to lug the packages and load up the car.

Cast pride aside. When Jennifer and her husband took their kids to Disney World, Jennifer rented a motorized scooter, even though she had initially balked at the idea. “Emotionally it was very hard,” she says. “But it allowed me to have a great time with my kids.”

April 2013