A Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) flare-up is characterized by joint pain and swelling, fatigue, and anxiety. The symptoms of RA are felt throughout the body, this is especially true during a flare-up. Fortunately, some strategies can help you cope with symptoms and perhaps even shorten the duration of the flare, which will allow you to return to your normal routine as soon as possible.
Below are 15 suggestions for dealing with the symptoms of an RA flare-up at home. These suggestions are intended to be incorporated into the treatment plan recommended by your Rheumatologist.
Reducing Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain and Swelling
The most noticeable symptom of an RA flare is an increase in inflammation in the joints, which causes pain and swelling. Your joints may feel particularly stiff and achy in the morning, this is because you are getting out of bed. The following are 6 ways to reduce joint symptoms.
1. Take Medication As Prescribed
Some medications that are prescribed to treat RA can have a decreased effectiveness if they are not taken on time. If you have a history of failing to take your medication on time, create reminders, such as a repeating alarm on your phone.
2. Wear Support
Support such as a splint can support a painful joint and limit movements that exacerbate the pain. For instance, a wrist splint will allow you to use your hands but will prevent wrist movements that may cause joint strain and lead to long-term damage. Similarly, there are supports for your knees, ankles, and fingers.
3. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Certain foods, such as sugary sodas and foods fried in oil, may increase inflammation and make joint symptoms worse. Trade them in for fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, high-fiber foods.
Several nutritional supplements have also shown promise for relieving pain, stiffness, and other arthritis symptoms. Glucosamine and chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and curcumin are just some of the natural products that may improve joint stiffness and pain caused by damage to your cartilage. These natural remedies may offer arthritis symptom relief, especially in combination with traditional treatments such as weight loss and physical therapy.
4. Over-The-Counter Medication
Many people with RA can safely take a prescription medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to alleviate a temporary increase in joint pain. If you are unsure about the interaction of these drugs with other medications, or if you need to take them on a daily basis for more than a couple of weeks, discuss this with your physician or pharmacist.
5. Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can reduce joint stiffness by warming up and lubricating joints. You can utilize wet heat, like a hot shower, or dry heat, like a heating pad or patch. Avoid temperatures that can cause pain or irritation to the skin and limit the application time to 15-20 minutes daily.
6. Cold Therapy
Cold therapy can decrease inflammation in joints alleviating pain and slowing the production of fluid that exacerbates swelling in joints. Cold therapy may be particularly beneficial following physical activity. Always cover your skin with a cloth when applying ice or cold packs, and limit the time spent applying them to 15-20 minutes several times a day.
Some people prefer using either heat therapy or cold therapy, while others alternate throughout the day. Try both to help decide which approach works best for you.
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis experience fatigue as a symptom. You may experience fatigue even if you spend a lot of time resting. If you are having fatigue due to RA, effective management of the underlying RA can help. It is important that you are taking all of your prescribed RA medications and speak to a doctor regularly about your symptoms to ensure your disease is well-controlled. While following your physician’s instruction, these 5 suggestions can help mitigate the loss of energy associated with RA.
7. Make a Sleep Schedule
Establishing a regular sleep schedule can greatly improve sleep quality. A consistent routine may involve having the same bedtime every night, avoiding screen time before bed, eliminating sources of disruptive noise, and sleeping on comfortable & supportive bedding.
8. Get Tested for Sleep Apnea
In addition to a sleep routine, you may want to discuss your sleep habits with your doctor. Conditions like sleep affect breathing during sleep and can cause you to feel fatigued even after a full night’s rest. Some studies show that people with RA are more likely to have sleep apnea. Your rheumatologist or general physician may recommend testing for sleep apnea if you are experiencing fatigue after sleeping and if you suffer from snoring.
9. Use Your Energy Effectively
During an RA flare, don’t devote energy to activities that aren’t necessary or help you feel better. For instance, sit down while brushing your teeth or styling your hair. If your fingers are aching, wear clothing that is simple to put on and take off. Ask family and friends for assistance with specific tasks and errands. Forcing yourself to complete tasks during flare-ups can exacerbate RA symptoms.
10. Simplify Meal Preparation
Preparing meals during an RA flare can be extremely stressful and difficult. Many of our patients have found that preparing or buying meals to keep in the freezer has been extremely helpful. There are also many delivery services available that can bring healthy and anti-inflammatory food options right to your door.
11. Exercise Regularly
It may seem counter-intuitive, but studies have shown that people with RA have lower levels of fatigue when they exercise regularly. Experts typically recommend low-impact exercises, such as walking, tai chi, swimming, or water therapy.
Easing Stress or Anxiety
People with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher propensity for stress and anxiety. These emotions can cause the release of stress hormones that promote inflammation. The same hormones can also cause muscle tension, which can exacerbate joint pain. To reduce tension and anxiety:
12. Use Relaxation Techniques
Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques can reduce the release of stress hormones that increase the severity of both anxiety and RA inflammation. You can combine these techniques in combination with the pain and swelling tips 1-6.
13. Prioritize Activities
It’s okay to decline social invitations, requests for volunteer work, and additional responsibilities at work. By refusing today, you are conserving your energy and helping to ensure that you will have a healthier tomorrow.
14. Unplug and Unwind
Social media has made it very easy to compare yourself to the interesting world that others post. Instead of becoming frustrated with your RA and the things you cannot do, put the phone down and enjoy the things you can do, such as watching a movie, reading a book, calling a loved one, or taking a walk outside.
15. Positive Thinking
When you sense an RA flare approaching, try to avoid negative thoughts about the flare itself or what others think of it. Remember that sometimes flares occur and practice all the other tips in this article to find relief. Your positive attitude and commitment to self-care can provide the most extreme comfort.
By experimenting, you can identify the self-care techniques that are most effective for you. If your RA symptoms are unusual or severe, or they are not responding to your self-care methods, make an appointment to see the expert rheumatologists at Pacific Arthritis. Together, you and our team will find the long-term relief you need. Call (310) 297-9221 to get started.