Manage the pain of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't have a cure, but you can take steps to help manage its symptoms. These steps can help you relieve joint and muscle pain, reduce inflammation, and improve your overall ability to move.

  • Be physically active. Staying physically active is key to strengthening muscles and keeping joints flexible. It can also protect your joints from further damage. Regular exercise has been found to improve sleep quality, which is especially helpful if your rheumatoid arthritis makes it hard for you to sleep. Ask your physical or occupational therapist to recommend activities that are a good fit for you. Your therapist can also instruct you on how to use a cane properly. A cane is almost mandatory during physical activity. It reduces the weight your joints have to bear.
  • Apply heat to stiff joints and tired muscles. Heat treatments include paraffin wax baths, warm baths, heating pads and electric blankets. Heat also helps prepare your body for exercise and makes stretching easier.
  • Apply ice to inflamed areas. Cold treatments numb pain and decrease inflammation and swelling. Apply a bag of ice or a cold pack wrapped in a towel directly on sore joints. You can use cold treatments as many as eight times a day, but don't use them for more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Support your joints. Splints can reduce pain and swelling by supporting your joints. Ask your physical or occupational therapist to help you choose and fit the right splint.
  • Use self-help devices. Reduce stress on your joints by using zipper pulls, long-handled shoehorns, wheels on carts and suitcases, and other devices to help you get on and off of chairs, toilet seats and beds.
  • Take medication. Medications for rheumatoid arthritis can ease symptoms, reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease. But it's best to use medication along with other strategies. Ask your doctor if medication is right for you and if you should take it regularly or just when you have symptoms.
  • Commit to a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, avoiding tobacco smoke, using stress-reducing techniques such as meditation and yoga, and eating a healthy diet can all help control symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
April 07, 2015 See more In-depth