Tips for Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

There may be times when your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms get worse, and other times when you feel great.

Your doctor will work with you to help ease your symptoms with medicine and other treatments.

But you have the power to help yourself manage your own RA every day. What follows are some tips on how you can do it.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is a big part of RA treatment. It includes activity and exercise, diet and weight management, and stress reduction.

Take medicine as directed. Try not to skip a dose. Always tell your doctor about any side effects. And when you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Try and remember all your appointments -- they’re important. Use your calendar, day planner, or smartphone to remind you.


When you have joint pain and stiffness, you may not want to exercise. But stay as active as possible. It actually helps to lessen your symptoms and prevent long-term problems.

Exercise for rheumatoid arthritis usually includes:

  • Stretching. Stretch when you get started to warm up. Stretch before you are done to cool down.
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise. These are exercises that keep your heart strong, but don’t harm your joints. Walking, riding a bike, and swimming are good choices for people with RA. You may also try a cardio machine like a stationary bike or treadmill.
  • Strengthening. These exercises help to keep your muscles strong. You might use special resistance bands that gently strengthen your muscles. You can also use light weights.

If you have a lot of pain when you exercise, you should stop. Talk with your doctor or therapist before you start again.

Physical therapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT) can teach you how to stay active in a way that both helps and protects your joints. Ask your doctor about seeing someone who specializes in RA.



Although there have been many studies about diet and rheumatoid arthritis, there is no strong proof that a special diet helps.

But it’s always smart to eat a balanced, healthy diet. That means you should eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy oils (like olive oil), and fish (like salmon, mackerel, and herring). And, your diet should have less saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugars. Your doctor may also recommend the following:

  • Weight loss. If you are overweight, the extra pounds add stress to your joints.
  • Vitamins or minerals. You may need the extra nutrients.
  • No alcohol. Drinking alcohol may be a problem with some medicines for RA.

You may also have weight loss from RA or from some medicines you take. If you’ve lost weight, make sure you tell your doctor.

If you need help with your diet, your doctor may recommend that you see a nutritionist or dietician.

Lower Stress

Dealing with RA can be stressful, but there are lots of ways you can lower your stress level:

  • Talk with your doctor or nurse. They may suggest counseling or have other ideas to help with your stress.
  • Take time to rest during the day. Balancing activity and rest is an important part of self-care for RA.
  • Try to relax. Simple deep breathing can make you feel better.
  • Learn special techniques like yoga and meditation. They may help you relax.
  • Get support from friends, family, and co-workers.
  • Join a class or support group. There may be arthritis programs in your area. You can connect with others who have RA online or on social media.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on November 4, 2018



American College of Physicians: “Control is the key in RA.”

American Health & Drug Benefits: “Competition Heats Up in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Conditions.”

Arthritis Foundation: “A New Way to Stretch,” “Rheumatoid Arthritis: Self-Care,” “Your Exercise Solution; Recommended Activities,” “Your Exercise Solution; Resistance Bands.”

Arthritis Research & Therapy: “Identifying factors associated with concordance with the American College of Rheumatology rheumatoid arthritis treatment recommendations.”

CDC: “Rheumatoid Arthritis: RA.”

Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: “Nutrition & Rheumatology.”

Medscape Education Rheumatology: “CME Experts Insights; Adherence to therapy in RA.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS): “Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

Singh, J. Arthritis Care & Research, published online 2015.

UpToDate: “Patient information: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics).”

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