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. Pushing, pulling or twisting motions can be painful. Think about ways you can avoid unnecessarily stressing your joints.

Don't be tempted to work through your rheumatoid arthritis pain. You might make the pain worse and increase your risk of developing joint deformities.

Respect your pain

If an activity causes joint pain, change the way you do that activity. Continuing the activity despite pain can damage your joint. Forgoing the activity altogether can lead to joint stiffness through lack of use.

As a general guideline, if pain persists for one hour after you do an activity, consider changing how you do it. For example:

  • Take rest breaks.
  • Use adaptive tools.
  • Alternate between sitting and stretching, and light and moderate activities, throughout the day.
  • If you have pain in your feet, wear proper shoes. Ask your doctor or occupational therapist for specific recommendations.

Choose the strongest joint for the job

Large joints are stronger than small ones. Save your smaller, weaker joints for the specific jobs that only they can accomplish, and favor large joints when possible.

For example:

  • Carry objects with your palm open, distributing the weight equally over your forearm.
  • Carry your purse or satchel over your shoulder instead of grasping it with your hand. If your shoulder is painful, use a backpack.
  • 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.

Spare your fingers as much work as possible. Try to:

  • Avoid prolonged pinching or gripping motions. Use less force to hold tools or equipment. 
  • Rest your hands flat and open rather than in a tight fist.
  • Ask your doctor or occupational therapist about using specially designed devices 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 task, you can minimize the stress on your joints.

Proper body mechanics allow you to use your body more efficiently. Try to:

  • Carry heavy objects close to your chest, supporting the weight on your forearms. Keep your elbows close to your body.
  • Pick up items from the floor by first bending your knees and hips, and stooping down. Or sit in a chair and bend over.
  • Avoid twisting and awkward positions, such as reaching for objects in the back seat of a car from the front seat.
  • Keep your hands below the "3 o'clock" and "9 o'clock" positions on the steering wheel when driving.
  • Use your abdominal muscles to help you roll over when getting out of bed.

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 might want to raise your chair, to make it easier to get up from it.
  • For typing or reading. 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.
March 21, 2015 See more In-depth