Rheumatoid Arthritis: Protecting Your Joints from Damage
Your joints were designed to last a lifetime. If you want to keep them in good shape, you need to take care of them now.
Protecting your joints means taking care of yourself with healthy lifestyle habits. It also means using your joints the right way and guarding them against damage – or further damage -- from rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the population worldwide, but still misunderstanding swirls around this common and severe joint condition.
"There are so many misconceptions out there about rheumatoid arthritis," says Paul Kremer, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at Albany Medical College in New York.
"Arthritis is common, and rheumatoid arthritis often gets confused with the other kinds of arthritis in people's minds,” he says.
Plus, rheumatoid arthritis is still mysterious...
These tips can help you have healthier joints even with RA now – and for years to come.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Lose Weight If You Need To
One of the kindest things you can do for your joints is to avoid overburdening them with too much body weight. If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hips, knees, or feet, excess weight can mean more stress on painful joints. A 2007 study showed that being overweight also makes it more difficult to bring RA into remission.
RA and Exercise: Stay Active
Regular exercise helps maintain joint function, reduce stiffness, and relieve fatigue. It helps relieve aching joints by strengthening the muscles that support them. Regular exercise can also help reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease, which can accompany RA.
Although regular exercise is important, too much or the wrong type of exercise can cause harm – particularly if your joints are already fragile. Choose exercises that place the least body weight on your joints, such as swimming, stationary cycling, water exercise, and light weight lifting. Your doctor or physical therapist can help design an exercise program that's right for you.
Stop Smoking If You Have RA
Research in recent years has suggested that smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you already have RA, smoking can make it more difficult to treat, which could mean more joint damage. A Swedish study showed that smokers with RA were less likely to respond to two common RA treatments – methotrexate and certain biologics (TNF inhibitors) – than RA patients who didn't smoke.
Use Assistive Devices to Reduce Joint Stress
Using assistive devices can reduce stress on damaged joints, helping protect them from injury or further injury. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis in a hip or knee, supporting yourself with a cane on the opposite side can take 20% to 30% of the weight off the joint and improve stability.
Pens, pencils, and toothbrush handles with thicker handles spare the joints of the hands. Reachers minimize stress on the shoulders when reaching for items on high shelves.
Use Your Largest, Strongest Joints
To avoid worsening joint damage, try not to place excessive strain on any single joint. Use larger, stronger joints to spare smaller, fragile ones. Some strategies include:
Carry a shoulder bag instead of a clutch or handbag, particularly if it is heavy.
Carry grocery bags in your arms, close to your body, instead of gripping them with your hands.
Hold small items in your palms, instead of your fingers.
Use both hands or the side of your body to open heavy doors.