What Helps You Curb RA Fatigue?

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on July 09, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you know what fatigue means. Your friends and family might think you're just tired, but that doesn't come close.

Although you may not be able to stop RA fatigue completely, you can lessen it and have more energy to enjoy life. These strategies make a difference.

Combine Rest and Movement

Rest is key to managing fatigue, but don’t sit on the sidelines. The important thing is to get a balance.

"If you have RA and overexert yourself all day, of course you'll feel bad," says Daniel Wallace, MD, assistant program director of the Rheumatology Fellowship Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "But if you lie in bed all day, you'll also feel bad."

After sitting or lying for too long, your joints will ache as soon as you start to move. So switch things up.

Rest when you need to. When you exert yourself, take frequent breaks to recharge. Talk to your boss about how you can have rest periods at work. See if you can adjust your schedule and find a quiet spot -- shut the door if you have an office, find a bench outside, or even sit in your car.

Take breaks to move. When you need to sit for a while -- like at a desk -- stand up, stretch, or walk around every half hour, says Lenore Frost, PhD, clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. Set an alarm to remind yourself to get up if it helps.

Exercise. It will give you energy. Don't do a whole 30-minute workout at once, says Darlene Lee, a nurse practitioner and practice manager at the rheumatology clinic at the University of California in San Francisco. Start with 5-minute segments and work your way up to 30.

Get enough sleep. It's super important. Create good habits -- go to bed at the same time every night and cut back on caffeine, for example. If you still don't sleep well enough, talk to your doctor.

Save Your Energy

You’ll want to rethink how you do things. What hurts or wears you out? Hectic mornings? Tying your shoes? Cooking dinner? Come up with ways to make things easier.

Revise your schedule. Take a look at your day and try to spread out chores and other tasks evenly. Let's say your mornings are especially hard. Switch some tasks to other times of the day. For instance, set out tomorrow’s clothes -- for yourself and your kids -- the night before.

Do things in short spurts. Frost suggest you garden, clean, or do anything else in 30-minute blocks of time. "Once that half-hour is over, do something else," she says. Just changing your position and activity can help you avoid pain and fatigue.

Make the small things easier. "You can reduce fatigue by making your environment easier to negotiate," says Patience White, MD, a rheumatologist and vice president for public health at the Arthritis Foundation. Use assistive devices. Get some kitchen utensils, pots, and pans with fatter grips so that they're easier to hold. Replace your doorknobs with handles, which will be easier to grasp.

Get help. Ask a friend or family member to take over some of the heavier chores. Have someone else carry laundry baskets upstairs or fill the pasta pot with water. Don't plan to cook dishes that need a lot of chopping unless you have someone to help, Frost says. Or buy pre-cut vegetables.

Talk to Your Doctor

Fatigue is pretty common with rheumatoid arthritis, but you should still talk about it with your doctor. In some cases, they can help.

  • Some RAmedications can make you tired. Changing the dosage or timing, or switching to a different drug, can give you more energy.
  • RA can cause depression, which can cause serious fatigue. Your doctor can help you decide if seeing a therapist could help. Medication may help, too.
  • Other medical issues -- like anemia, fibromyalgia, and thyroid problems -- can drain your energy, so it's important to find out if your rheumatoid arthritis is really to blame. Getting treatment can restore some energy.

Your regular RA medications should help, too. "Fatigue gets better when your RA gets under control," White says. Make sure you're getting the right meds, and stick to your treatment plan.

WebMD Feature



Arthritis Foundation: "Coping with Fatigue," "How to Beat Fatigue," "Methotrexate: Managing Side Effects."

Clifton O. "Bing" Bingham, MD, director, Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center; associate professor of medicine, divisions of rheumatology and allergy, department of medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

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

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

Jane McCabe, MS, OTR/L, CAPS, occupational therapist, certified aging-in-place specialist, Laguna Hills, Calif.

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

Daniel J. Wallace, MD, assistant program director, Rheumatology Fellowship Program, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

Patience White, MD, rheumatologist, vice president of public health, Arthritis Foundation. 

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