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Good news! Healthy, delicious foods are good for your whole body, including your joints, although they don’t cure rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Go for plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fish, and other types of lean protein. Some fare may help with joint swelling, such as fish oils, nuts, and tea. Limit sugar and saturated fat, and avoid any foods that seem to worsen your joint problems.
Exercise helps your joints move well, and it strengthens the muscles around them. If you’re working on losing weight, exercise is good for that, too. As you shed those pounds, it will ease the stress on your joints. You’ll want to work on aerobic exercise (cardio), strength training, and flexibility. A physical therapist or a trainer with experience in RA can make a workout plan and show you what to do.
Though you need to be active, make time for rest, too. RA can make you feel especially tired. Don’t try to do more than you can handle. Take breaks when you need to. Get at least 8 hours of sleep at night, plus a nap during the day if you feel drained.
Even a few sessions can make a difference. A physical therapist can teach you safe exercises to make you stronger, so you can move better. If you’re having problems getting around or doing simple tasks, ask your therapist about tools and devices that can help.
Smoking worsens your RA symptoms and makes your treatments less effective. Work to kick the habit, even if it takes a couple of tries. Your doctor can give you advice and resources. And while an occasional drink may be OK for some people, check with your doctor, since alcohol can affect RA drugs in a way that damages your liver.
When your joints ache, try a temperature change for soothing relief. Soak in a warm bath, take a warm shower, or hold a moist heating pad to sore spots to ease tense muscles. Apply a cool compress or cold pack to chill out fiery joints. You can switch between cold and heat to get both benefits.
It can be tough to talk about your RA, but try. Your friends and family may not realize what you're going through, especially if you look healthy. It's OK to share when you're having a bad day and could use some encouragement, or if you'd rather they come over for a potluck dinner instead of going out to eat. As you ask for what you need, they'll learn about your condition and be more ready to help.
RA treatments can ease your pain, stiffness, and fatigue, but not overnight. It may take a few weeks or months to feel better. When you start a new drug, ask your doctor when you should begin to notice a difference and what sorts of changes to expect. If the time passes and you don't feel better, let your doctor know.
Talk with your RA doctor to set up your ideal treatment plan. Medicine is a big part of it, and be sure to consider all the other things that can help you feel better and protect your joints, too. For example, your doctor might suggest physical therapy, stress management, or nutrition counseling.
You and your doctor are a team. It helps her to know how you're really doing, so be open. If you notice side effects or don’t get the results you hope for, or if you can’t take your medicine for some other reason, tell your doctor. Stay on your medicine and don’t change the dose unless you've checked with your doctor first.