When you have RA, flares happen, and you can’t predict when they will strike.
It's not your fault. But to help keep them at bay, do these five things.
1. Know what triggers your RA flares.
Infections can be to blame. So can stress. Some people get flares if they overdo activity. And some people swear that certain foods trigger flares, though there's not a lot of research to back that up.
The important thing is to identify what tends to trigger your flares. The next time you have one, make notes about what was going on in your life, what was going on with your health, and what your daily activities and diet were like. Once you learn your triggers, you can take steps to avoid them.
2. Work on how you manage stress.
It’s stressful to have RA or any other long-term condition. So have these stress-taming strategies ready.
Exercise releases "feel good" hormones called endorphins. A good workout delivers them and focuses your mind on your activity instead of your RA. Studies show that exercise improves your mood and helps you sleep better. Because of your RA, you’ll probably want to pick activities that are not jarring on your joints. For instance, walking instead of running.
Another way to lower stress is to practice a mind-body technique such as meditation, visualization, or biofeedback. Yoga has also been shown to help reduce stress. Check to see if your local community center offers free or low-cost classes in any of these plans.
3. Pace yourself.
On days when you feel good, you may be tempted to catch up on all the things you haven’t been able to get done. Be careful not to overdo it. Pushing yourself too hard can bring on fatigue and trigger a flare. Prioritize what needs to be done and pace yourself. Take rest breaks often, even if you don’t feel especially tired. Ask for help, too.
4. Protect your aching joints.
These simple methods work:
- Use devices like canes, special jar openers, and padded handles.
- Make it easier to lift, carry, or bend. Use your bigger joints instead of your smaller ones. For instance, use your whole arm to lift things, not just your hands and wrists.
- Wear safety gear like knee and elbow pads or wrist guards when you play sports or do outdoor activities.
- Move your joints through their full range of motion. Use slow, gentle movements.
- Strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your joints. If you don’t have a physical therapist, ask your doctor for a referral.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Your doctor can tell you if your weight is OK for your joints.