Working with Rheumatoid arthritis

General Tools & Tips

Managing Pain-

Pain can be an everyday experience when you’re living with arthritis – and some days may be worse than others. Pain is often triggered by everyday things, such as turning a door handle, or your body being too cold. Track your pain day-to-day here online, or in a journal. What are your triggers for pain?

There are some things you can do at home to help ease your pain. Take a look at the list below and find out what works well for you.

Top Tips for Reducing Pain

  • What are your triggers? Have a look at how your pain has tracked day-to-day. Can you see any patterns or triggers - such as cold weather or the time of day?
  • Plan in advance. If you know in advance what triggers your pain, it can make it easier to plan for this in advance.
    • Can you keep a warm jacket in the car in case you get caught out by the weather?
    • Can you have a heat pack ready to use at certain times of the day?
  • Have a look around your house. Are there ways of doing things differently around the house that might make things easier for you?
    • Ask someone to tie rubber bands around door handles to make them easier to open
    • Use an electric toothbrush or electric can opener
  • Keep active. Light exercise can help prevent pain as it strengthens the muscles around the joints. Talk to your doctor about creating an exercise program that suits you.
  • Stretch. If you have to sit for long periods of time, stand up regularly and do some gentle stretching. This can help keep the muscles and ligaments in your body strong and supple.
  • Grandma’s remedies. Sometimes old and tried remedies such as using heat (wheat packs or hot water bottles), cold (ice packs or frozen peas), or vapo-rubs can help alleviate pain. Try a few out and see what works well for you.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Tips, Body Heat Pack "I like practical advice, something that a mum would do – maybe try some pressure, maybe some heat" "What works really well for me is a wheat pack too … sometimes it just takes the edge off so the drugs can work on the inside"

Morning Stiffness+

Waking up with your body feeling stiff and sore is a common experience for people with arthritis. There are a few things you can do to help your body ‘warm up’ and get started for the day.

  • Warmth. Turn your electric blanket on when you wake up. Let the heat warm your body and joints up before you get out of bed. Alternatively, get up as best you can and enjoy a hot shower or bath.
  • Stretching. Take a few moments before you get out of bed to do some gentle stretching. This will help keep your joints supple and let your muscles warm up.
  • Be patient. It can be frustrating when you can’t get going as quickly as you’d like to. Setting your alarm clock a little earlier may give your body the extra time it needs to warm up and get going.

Fatigue+

Fatigue can be one of the more frustrating symptoms of arthritis. Not only is it unpleasant, it can stop us from doing the things we’d like to do. Fatigue is also ‘invisible’, and this can make it really hard to tell others what it is really like (and get their sympathy!).

There are a few things you can do to help get some balance when you experience fatigue.

Plan ahead

Write a list of things you’d like to do with your day. Divide them into two columns:

  • Things I have to do
    • Work out what has to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow. Plan your day around your more urgent tasks.
  • Things I would like to do
    • Work out the things you would like to do, but perhaps don’t always get around to doing.
    • Choose at least one activity off this list and make sure you do something nice for yourself every day. This helps replenish your energy.

Keep your standards in check

Sometimes people can set high standards for themselves and get disappointed when they don’t get around to doing everything they’d planned. It is important to remember that you have a medical condition that needs looking after, and this may mean cutting back on your commitments. Practicing acceptance - that some days you just might not be able to do everything – can also help you feel a little less frustrated.

Pace yourself

  • Don’t boom and bust! Some people can get over-excited when they get a burst of fresh energy, and use all of it up getting things done. They then find the next day they feel worse and are more fatigued than when they started. Pace yourself, even on good days.
  • Get plenty of rest. Take a 15-20 minute break in the morning and afternoon. Breaks can help build up the stamina you need to complete your day.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Tips, Leg Rest "It can be quite difficult at times because you can’t get to do the things you want to do. You’re not as capable as you were before. You feel a bit useless at times." "I try to remember that there are people out there worse than me, and that keeps me up there."

In the Bathroom+

Using the bathroom often involves turning taps on and off, getting up and down, or standing on slippery surfaces. This can present some problems when you are affected by arthritis. Try some of these ideas to make things easier for you:

  • Taps and Doorknobs:
    • Place rubber bands or plastic covers over the top to make them easier to turn.
    • Replace them with levers so that you push down with your hand rather than turn your wrist.
  • Place non-slip rubber mats on slippery surfaces to help prevent slips and falls.
  • Install a handrail next to the toilet or bathtub for extra stability.
  • If you have trouble sitting down, use a raised toilet seat.

Showering or Having a Bath+

Having to bend and reach to wash, getting in and out of the bath, or dealing with slippery surfaces can be a challenge when you have arthritis. You can help overcome these challenges by following some of the tips below:

  • Place non-slip rubber mats on slippery surfaces to help prevent slips and falls.
  • Install handrails in the shower or around the bath for extra stability.
  • Use a long-handled shower brush to wash hard-to-reach areas such as your back, legs and feet.
  • Use a shower mitt to reduce hand and wrist movement when washing your body.
  • Use pump dispensers for soaps and shampoos. It may be easier for you to push down on pumps rather than to squeeze bottles.

Sleep and Your Bedroom+

A good night’s sleep helps your body rest and repair, and gives you energy for the following day. Experiencing pain or feeling stressed can disrupt your sleep and can make you feel tired and irritable. Try these tips to help improve your chances of a good night’s sleep:

  • Make sure your bed is comfortable. You may prefer a soft mattress such as memory foam, or you may feel better with the support of a firmer bed. This also applies to your pillow.
  • Keep a sleep diary. Record what time you went to sleep, what time you got up, and when you woke up during the night. What is keeping you awake or waking you up? If pain or stress are disrupting your sleep talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you with ways to reduce your pain or stress so that you can get the sleep you need.
  • Different sleeping positions might be better for your body. Ask your doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist for their advice.
  • Keep the things you need in your bedroom handy. You may want to keep a comfortable chair, robe, slippers, or phone next to your bed so they are easy to get to if you need them.

In the Kitchen+

Getting Organised:

A lot of time can be spent in your kitchen getting meals organised. It can be a good idea to have a think about how easy it is for you to access items and move around your kitchen. Try some of these tips:

  • Store the items you use most often at a comfortable height - between waist and eye level.
  • Hang cooking utensils (eg, wooden spoons, tongs, spatulas) on hooks in a place you can easily reach.
  • Go to a kitchen showroom and ask about products they may have to make your life easier. Revolving cabinets (“Lazy Susan’s”) and sliding drawers may help you to access the things you need more easily.

Utensils:

Your kitchen utensils should work for you, not against you. When you have arthritis, everyday items such as can openers or wooden spoons can be hard to grip and manoeuvre. Here are some tips that can help make life in the kitchen easier:

  • Kitchen appliances and utensils should be easy to grip, hold and carry.
    • Look for lightweight pots, pans, bowls and containers
    • Use utensils with thicker, built-up handles
    • Use heat-proof gloves or mitts instead of a flat square pad for transferring hot pots and pans
  • Keep a stool handy to sit on while you work in the kitchen.
  • Search on the internet for devices that can make your life easier, such as rubber jar and bottle openers or reachers (tools with long handles and a gripping ‘hand’)
  • Buy tools that can do some of the work for you, such as electric can openers, carving knives or mixers.

Furniture+

If arthritis makes it difficult for you to get comfortable or even just get around, have a think about your furniture. Is there enough room to get around it safely and easily? Is it hard for you to get into and out of couches or chairs? Choose and arrange your furniture for comfort, convenience and safety. These tips can help:

  • Add casters (wheels) or felt pads to the feet of heavier furniture such as sofas, chairs or tables. This can make it easier to move furniture when you need to – such as when doing the vacuuming, or if you simply want to change the scenery.
  • Change the legs of your furniture to add extra height if your sofa or chair is too low to stand up from easily.
  • Consider replacing the stuffing in your seat cushions with foam for more support.
  • Use a foot rest or ottoman to raise and rest your feet and legs while seated.
  • When buying a new piece of furniture, be sure to think about the height, weight and length of the furniture. Try to choose items that won't put too much strain on your joints.
  • If you do purchase a new piece of furniture, take advantage of delivery and installation services to prevent both strain and stress.
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