There's a lot you can do to curb the chances that your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will flare up. Try some simple steps to keep joint pain and stiffness from coming back.
1. Know what triggers your flares.
Infections can be a culprit. So can stress. Some people get flares if they overdo activity. Others say certain foods trigger problems, though there's not a lot of research to back that up.
The important thing is to find out what tends to bring on a flare. The next time you have one, make notes about what's going on in your life. For instance, what's your overall health like, what kind of activities do you do every day, and what kinds of food do you eat? Once you learn your triggers, you can take steps to avoid them.
2. Work on how you manage stress.
Look for new ways to ease stress. For instance, exercise releases "feel-good" hormones called endorphins. Studies show that moving around improves your mood and helps you sleep better. Pick activities that don't put pressure on your joints. So, go for a walk instead of a jog.
Another way to lower stress is to try a mind-body technique such as meditation, visualization, or biofeedback. Yoga can also help, studies show. Check to see if your local community center offers free or low-cost classes.
3. Pace yourself.
On days when you feel good, you may be tempted to catch up on all the things you couldn't get done when your RA was bothering you. Be careful not to overdo it. You can bring on fatigue and trigger a flare if you push yourself too hard.
Decide which of your chores is the most important, and then pace yourself. Take a lot of breaks, even if you don't feel especially tired. And don't forget to ask your friends and family to help.
4. Protect your aching joints.
These simple methods work:
- Use canes, special jar openers, and padded handles.
- Make it easier to lift, carry, or bend. Use your bigger joints instead of your smaller ones. 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.
- Put 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 to help you find one.
- Try to avoid putting on extra pounds, which puts pressure on your joints. Your doctor can tell you what your goal should be.
5. Take your medications on schedule.
The most important thing you can do to avoid a flare is to take your medicine on time. A regular schedule helps you keep a constant level of medication in your body. Don't skip doses. Use a pill box, calendar, or alarm to help stay on track.
Call your doctor right away if you feel a flare coming on. He may be able to tweak your meds to get your symptoms under control.