Rheumatoid Arthritis Self-Care
Self-care, or self-management, means taking a proactive role in treatment and maintaining a good quality of life. Here are some ways you can manage RA symptoms (along with recommended medication) and promote overall health.
Anti-inflammatory Diet and Healthy Eating
While there is no specific “diet” for RA, researchers have identified certain foods that are rich in antioxidants and can help control and reduce inflammation. Many of them are part of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, among other healthy foods. It’s also important to eliminate or significantly reduce processed and fast foods that fuel inflammation.
Balancing Activity with Rest
Rest is important when RA is active and joints feel painful, swollen or stiff. Rest helps reduce inflammation and fatigue that can come with a flare. Taking breaks throughout the day conserves energy and protects joints.
For people with RA, exercise is so beneficial it’s considered a main part of RA treatment. The exercise program should emphasize low-impact aerobics, muscle strengthening and flexibility. The program should be tailored to fitness level and capabilities, and take into account any joint damage that exists. A physical therapist can help to design an exercise program.
Heat and Cold Therapies
Heat treatments, such as heat pads or warm baths, tend to work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles. Cold is best for acute pain. It can numb painful areas and reduce inflammation.
These treatments are applied directly to the skin over the painful muscle or joint. They may be creams or patches. Depending on the type used, it may contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), salicylates or capsaicin, which help reduce pain.
Natural and Alternative Therapies
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery and visualization can help train painful muscles to relax. Research shows massage can help reduce arthritis pain, improve joint function and ease stress and anxiety. Acupuncture may also be helpful. This involves inserting fine needles into the body along special points called “meridians” to relieve pain. Those who fear needles might consider acupressure, which involves applying pressure, instead of needles, at those points.
Studies have shown that turmeric and omega-3 fish oil supplements may help with rheumatoid arthritis pain and morning stiffness. However, talk with a doctor before taking any supplement to discuss side effects and potential interactions.
Positive Attitude and Support System
Many studies have demonstrated that resilience, an ability to “bounce back,“ encourages a positive outlook. Having a network of friends, family members and co-workers can help provide emotional support. It can help a patient with RA cope with life changes and pain.