One of the hardest things about having RA is that you never know when you may have a flare of symptoms. If you've gone a long time without one, it can come as a shock. During flares, some people feel frustrated and wonder if they did something wrong.
So let's clear the air at the start. No one can predict when and why flares occur. It's not your fault. The best way to keep flares at bay is to take your RA medications consistently. But there are some things you can do to reduce the odds of a flare.
Do you know what triggers your RA flares?
Infections can trigger RA flares. 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 a flare, make notes about what was going on in your life, what your health was like, what your daily activity and diet were like. But, of course, you want to prevent the flare in the first place. So, think about these questions.
How well do you think you manage stress?
Let’s face it -- living with a chronic disease is stressful. Yet stress can clearly trigger an RA flare. You can’t escape stress altogether, but you may be able to manage it better.
Exercise releases "feel good" hormones called endorphins. A good workout pumps up your endorphins, and focuses your mind on the exercise instead of your daily problems. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood and help you sleep better. It's also proven to reduce stress.
Another way to reduce stress is to practice a mind-body therapy such as meditation, visualization, or biofeedback. Even yoga has been shown to help reduce stress. Check out your local community center; they often offer free or low-cost classes in stress reduction techniques.
Are you pacing yourself?
On days when you are feeling good, you may be tempted to catch up on all the things you haven’t been able to get done. But be careful not to overdo it. Overdoing activities can bring on fatigue and trigger a flare. On good days, prioritize what needs to be done and pace yourself. Take frequent rest breaks even if you aren’t feeling particularly tired. Ask for help.
Do you protect your joints carefully?
Overusing a joint can trigger painful symptoms and cause more damage. You can help protect your joints in a few key ways.
- Maintain a healthy weight (lose a few pounds if you need to).
- Take advantage of adaptive devices like canes, special jar openers, and padded handles.
- Use good body mechanics -- use your largest joints when you lift, carry, or bend.
- 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. And do specific exercises to strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your joints. You might ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist to get some help learning how to do this.