Five Everyday Ways to Improve RA

Rheumatoid arthritis lifestyle changes and at home treatments for easing symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

In rheumatoid arthritis, joints are chronically inflamed, often leaving patients in pain and with a dwindling quality of life. But these patients don't just have to sit back and accept their fate.

Though there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there are a wide range of treatment options, including many steps that patients can take on their own.

A different mix will work for different patients, but according to the Mayo Clinic, "These self-care measures, when used along with your rheumatoid arthritis medications, can help you manage your signs and symptoms."

Chill Out

In an interview with dailyRx News, Ian K. Yamane, DC, Clinic Director at Valhalla Wellness & Medical Centers in Las Vegas, suggested trying cold to help reduce swelling and inflammation of the joints. The Mayo Clinic noted that this method can also help numb the area and decrease muscle spasms.

"Applying an ice pack during an RA flare-up can help ease inflammation and pain," said Dr. Yamane, who also stressed that despite benefits, patients shouldn't overdo cold treatment.

"Apply cold for 15 minutes at a time with at least a 30-minute break in between treatments," Dr. Yamane recommended.

Heat it Up

In other situations, heat may help ease RA symptoms. "Heat helps relax muscles and stimulates blood flow," explained Dr. Yamane.

Dr. Yamane told dailyRx News that "a moist heating pad, hot pack, standing in a warm shower or taking a hot bath can all help ease pain."

However, just like with cold, patients should be careful not to overdo heat treatment. Dr. Yamane stressed the importance of not using any heat application that could burn the skin.

Eat Right

Simple dietary changes may provide some patients with relief from their symptoms.

"Studies have shown a diet that includes vegetables, nuts, olive oil, legumes and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids can have an anti-inflammatory effect, and can help reduce pain and stiffness of RA," said Dr. Yamane.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), "Many patients with RA try dietary approaches, such as fasting, vegan diets, or eliminating specific foods that seem to worsen RA symptoms." UMMC noted that at this point, there is not much research to support these approaches, but anecdotal evidence from patients hints that it may be helpful for some.

Get Moving

Gentle exercise can help RA patients say strong and flexible. Patients should be sure to discuss exercise options and methods with their doctor.

However, UMMC noted that in general, doctors will often recommend gentle stretching and tensing of joints, then perhaps mild strength training. Down the line, aerobic exercises like walking or swimming may be suggested.

"Tai chi, which uses graceful slow sweeping movements, is an excellent method for combining stretching and range-of-motion exercises with relaxation techniques," explained UMMC. "It may be of particular value for elderly patients with RA."

Stay Rested 

Though exercise can help, there must be a counterbalance to physical exertion when managing RA.

"It is important for patients with RA to maintain a balance between rest (which will reduce inflammation) and moderate exercise (which will relieve stiffness and weakness)," said UMMC.

Including relaxation and stress-reduction methods can also help RA patients cope with their symptoms. 

"Techniques such as hypnosis, guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation can all be used to control pain," suggested the Mayo Clinic.

Though each patient is different and will find success with different methods, there are simple ways patients can help manage their RA every day.

Review Date: 
April 11, 2014