Rheumatoid arthritis pain: Tips for protecting your joints

Use these joint protection techniques to help you stay in control of your rheumatoid arthritis pain. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Joint protection is a proven strategy to help you manage rheumatoid arthritis pain and perform daily activities more easily. Arthritic joints can't tolerate as much stress as healthy joints can, so pushing, pulling or twisting motions can be painful. Think about ways you can avoid unnecessarily stressing your joints.

Choose the strongest joint available for the job
Save your smaller, weaker joints for the specific jobs that only they can accomplish. Throughout the day, favor large joints. For example, carry objects with your palm open, distributing the weight equally over your forearm. Slide objects along a counter or workbench rather than lifting them. Use your thigh muscles to rise from a chair instead of pushing off with your hands.

To help prevent joint damage, spare your fingers as much work as possible. In particular, try to avoid prolonged pinching or gripping motions. Use tools that help spread the force throughout your palm or arm.

Use good body mechanics
If you position yourself correctly and use the muscles best suited to a physically demanding task, you can minimize the stress on your joints. Proper body mechanics allow you to use your body more efficiently. Carry heavy objects close to your chest, supporting the weight on your forearms. To pick up items from the floor, stoop by bending your knees and hips. Or sit in a chair and bend over.

Arranging your work area wisely also can make a big difference:

  • While sitting. Make sure you have good back and foot support. Your forearms and upper legs should be well supported, resting level with the floor. You may want to raise your chair, to make it easier to get up from it.
  • For typing. If you type at a keyboard for long periods and your chair doesn't have arms, consider using wrist or forearm supports. An angled work surface for reading and writing is easier on your neck.
  • While standing. The height of your work surface should enable you to work comfortably without stooping.

Keep moving
Don't give your joints the chance to become stiff — keep them moving. When writing or doing handwork, release your grip every 10 to 15 minutes, or when your hand feels fatigued. On long car trips, take breaks every hour or two so you can get out and stretch. Choose aisle seats on airplanes, so you can shift your legs more easily.

Move each joint through its full pain-free range of motion at least once a day. It's normal for your joint flexibility to vary from day to day. On sore, stiff days, keep your movements slow and gentle to avoid further damage.

Balance work and rest
Take time to organize your daily tasks. Work at a steady, moderate pace and avoid rushing. Rest before you become fatigued or sore, and alternate light and moderate activities throughout the day. Also try to take periodic stretch breaks.

Understand the difference between the general discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis and the pain from overusing a joint. Take note when an activity causes joint pain so you can avoid or modify the activity next time. If a particular task results in pain lasting more than an hour or two, cut back.

May. 04, 2012 See more In-depth