How to Protect Your Joints When You Have RA

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 08, 2020

Want to guard your joints against damage from RA? Keep them in good shape with some tweaks to your lifestyle. Diet, exercise, and using the right tools can make a huge difference.

Lose Weight

If you carry extra pounds, be kind to your joints and shed a few. Added body weight puts more stress on your hips, knees, and feet. Those extra pounds can make it harder to keep your RA joint pain and symptoms under control.

Stay Active

Regular exercise helps your joints work like they should, eases stiffness, and relieves fatigue. It strengthens the muscles that support your joints. An extra perk: It cuts your odds of heart disease, which often go along with RA.

Be careful, though. Too much exercise, or the wrong type, can be bad for you if your joints are inflamed or damaged. Do things that put the least amount of body weight on your joints. Try swimming, stationary cycling, and light weight lifting. Your doctor or physical therapist can help design a program that's right for you.

Stop Smoking

Help for your RA is just one more reason to quit tobacco. Research shows smoking can make it harder to treat the disease. Recent studies found that smokers with rheumatoid arthritis were less likely to benefit from two common treatments -- methotrexate and certain biologic drugs.

Why Exercise Is Good for RA Pain ReliefExercise may be the furthest thing from your mind with RA, but it’s important to stay active. What kinds of activities can you do? 113


TINA C. BUNCH: Exercise

and stretching is definitely

critical for patients

with rheumatoid arthritis

because it helps increase

their mobility.

It prevents flexion

contractures, joint contractures

that can develop over time.

When patients exercise,

they have a release

of endorphins, which are

natural performance

that the body makes that help

mitigate and cut down pain

as well.

So it's a good pain reliever.

Patients who have

rheumatoid arthritis who are

considering getting

into an exercise routine

should ask their physician, hey,

what do you think I can do

at this time?

And do you think it's

safe for me

to go ahead and do this sort

of activity?

There's no one thing that fits

every patient.

It's what you enjoy doing,

but we want you to be active.

Some patients come in and get

into a yoga routine.

Some patients are doing tai chi.

Any of these activities

are very

helpful for the long term.

If you like swimming,

go swimming.

If you like doing an elliptical,

do an elliptical.

So patients who, for example,

may have flexion contractures

in their hips and knees

from long-standing rheumatoid

arthritis, maybe they're

not able to get out and move

around a lot.

Physical therapy would be

of great benefit

for such patients.

Stretching out the fingers

in the morning is also very


If a patient

with rheumatoid arthritis

is in a flare, and their joints

are really inflamed

and they're in a lot of pain,

it may be hard to be

able to exercise

in those first couple of months.

As the months go by

and the arthritis gets

under better control,

usually with medication,

then the patient will be

able to do more activities.

Just hang in there.

Having a diagnosis of our age

does not mean you need to be


In fact, it means the opposite.

You need to continue to try

to get into a regimen

when it's feasible to be

able to be active.

Tina C. Bunch, MD,<br> Rheumatology, Austin Regional Clinic./delivery/2b/b3/2bb39b86-ad59-4a48-ab8c-e9f962d2d827/vd-1369-humira-ra-pain-relief_,4500k,1000k,400k,2500k,750k,.mp410/02/2017 12:00:0000man doing tai chi/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/ra_exercise_pain_relief_video/650x350_ra_exercise_pain_relief_video.jpg091e9c5e815a9afc

Choose Tools That Give Your Joints a Rest

Assistive devices can help take the stress off your damaged joints and protect them from injuries. For example, use a cane on the opposite side of the knee or hip joint with RA. It can take 20% to 30% of the weight off and make you more stable.

You can also try pens, pencils, and toothbrushes with thick handles that make them easier to hold. To cut stress on your shoulders, use tools to help you reach for items on high shelves.

Avoid Strain on a Single Joint

Use your large, strong joints to spare smaller, fragile ones. Try these tips:

  • Carry a shoulder bag instead of a clutch or handbag.
  • Hold grocery bags in your arms, close to your body. Don’t grip them with your hands.
  • Hold small items in your palms instead of your fingers.
  • Use both hands or your shoulder to open heavy doors.
  • Hold items with two hands instead of one.

Practice Good Posture

It protects your shoulder, hip, and knee joints. When you lift, keep your back straight and your feet wide apart. Bend at your knees and hips, not your waist.

When you’re in a chair, rest your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle. Sit upright and lift your chest.

Eat Right

Although there’s no specific diet to ease rheumatoid arthritis, some nutrients may help protect your joints:

Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show they can help lower the inflammation that comes with RA. Some good sources are fatty fish like salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines. You can also try fish oil supplements, but ask your doctor fist.

Calcium and vitamin D. Many people with RA don't get enough of these nutrients. Both are important for strong bones and healthy joints. They also help hold off osteoporosis, which becomes more likely when you have RA. Most adults need 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600-800 international units of vitamin D each day. Try nutrient-rich foods like leafy greens, soybeans, salmon, and cheese.

WebMD Medical Reference



Mikuls, T. Arthritis & Rheumatism, December 2010.

Kremer, J. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2000.

Hospital for Special Surgery: "How to Protect Your Joints."

Arthritis Foundation: "10 Ways You Can Protect Your Joints."

Arthritis Today: "Obesity Can Reduce Chance of RA Remission," "Exercising with Rheumatoid Arthritis," "Smoking Raises Arthritis Risk and Makes It Harder to Treat."

Harvard Health Publications: "Relieve arthritis pain naturally with exercise."

NIH Division of Occupational Health Safety: "Ergonomics for Computer Workstations."

Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: "Nutrition & Rheumatoid Arthritis."

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