8 Affordable Aids for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 02, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

Need a little help sometimes? Maybe you could use a hand when you get out of a chair, cook a meal, or write out a shopping list. You can make life with rheumatoid arthritis easier with a few gadgets that are easy on your wallet.

"People say that they don't want to use an assistive device because they don't want to feel dependent," says Jane McCabe, an occupational therapist and certified aging-in-place specialist in Laguna Hills, CA. "But these devices can make them more independent."

With the right ones, you'll have more freedom to do what you want with less pain. Most of these eight helpful tools cost less than $20. You can even make some on your own with supplies at home.

1. Reacher

It’s hard to reach up high when you have pain in your shoulders. And bending over hurts if you have pain in your hips.

The solution: a reacher. The simplest type is a stick with a hook at the end, also called a "dressing stick." Many others have clamps at the end that you control with a trigger. You can use them to grab a can from a high shelf or pick up keys that have fallen on the floor.


Some can be hard to use if you have pain in your fingers, says Lenore Frost, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. Look for reachers that don't put too much stress on painful finger joints.

2. Doorknob Covers

Opening doors is painful or tricky for many people with RA. The problem is the combined holding and turning motion.

Doorknob covers slip over knobs to make them bigger and easier to grip. Or you could change knobs to handles, although that costs more.

3. Wide-Handled Spatula

Is it hard to grasp and hold kitchen tools? Get a spatula and other kitchen gear with wider, easy-grip handles. Most kitchen stores carry them.

You can also make your own. "Just duct-tape a washcloth around the utensils you already have," says Victoria Ruffing, RN, program manager at the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore. You can also buy cheap pipe insulation online or at hardware stores to cover handles.


4. Electric Jar Opener

It can take away some of the need to grip and twist, which helps if your hands and fingers give you trouble.

5. Wide-Barreled Pen

Does it hurt to use a normal pen? Try one with a wide barrel. It'll be easier to hold. You can also put inexpensive rubber grips over standard pens and pencils to make them easier to grip.

6. Cane

If you feel unsteady on your feet, a cane can get you out of your chair and help you move with more confidence, Ruffing says.

Ask a physical therapist for advice before you buy one. And make sure you know how to use the cane right. (Many people don’t.) For instance, you should always hold it in the hand opposite the joint that hurts. So if your left knee aches, use the cane on your right side. Your PT can give you other tips.

7. Elastic Shoelaces

You don't need to replace all your lace-ups with slip-ons. Try elastic laces instead.


"They look like a regular pair of laces," McCabe says. "But because they're elastic, you can tie them once and then just slip the shoes on and off after that."

8. Dictation software

If you use a computer a lot, the keyboard can make your fingers and wrists ache. Give your hands a rest. Use your voice instead.

"Dictation software has become very accurate," Frost says. It helps you control your computer, surf the web, and dictate emails. Some programs cost less than $60. And most new computers come with built-in voice recognition.

Ask an Occupational Therapist

There's likely a tool or tools out there that can help you, whatever your RA symptoms are.

To find out what's available, see an occupational therapist who works with people with RA. The therapist can come to your home or office and suggest measures or devices that will fit your needs. Ask your doctor for a referral.

WebMD Feature



Lenore Frost, PhD, OTR/L, CHT, clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT.

Darlene Lee, NP, nurse practitioner, practice manager, rheumatology clinic, University of California, San Francisco.

Jane McCabe, MS, OTR/L, CAPS, occupational therapist, Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, Laguna Hills, CA.

Victoria Ruffing, RN, program manager, arthritis center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

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