Coping with rheumatism
Although research into medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is ongoing, there’s no current cure for this condition. Still, a healthy diet, proper rest, stress management, and regular exercise can help improve your quality of life. Over-the-counter medications and complementary treatments can also help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. And disease-modifying drugs can ease symptoms, prevent joint damage, or help put RA in remission.
Getting enough sleep is important for everyone, but it is especially important for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Taking a nap during the afternoon, if you don’t get enough sleep at night, can also help.
If your sleep is being negatively affected because you’re feeling overly stressed, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation exercises can help you relax. Hypnosis, meditation, and massage may also help ease stress and tension. If you’re dealing with insomnia, make sure to talk with your doctor, but also try one of these smartphone apps to help you get to sleep faster at night. If you think you may suffer from sleep apnea, talk to your doctor for diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Regular exercise is a great way to fight fatigue, strengthen muscles, and increase joint range of motion. Gentle stretching, walking, swimming and water aerobics are usually good low-impact choices. Avoid high-impact sports and take it easy when joints are tender or severely inflamed.
If necessary, ask your doctor to recommend exercises. A physical therapist can also show you the proper way to exercise on your own.
Topical creams, gels and lotions can be rubbed directly onto the skin to help ease painful joints. As the skin absorbs the ingredients, you may experience temporary relief of minor joint pain.
Topical ointments can also come in spray form or patches. For best results, look for products that contain capsaicin, salicylates, camphor, or menthol.
Some plant oils are thought to reduce pain and morning stiffness associated with RA. Evening primrose oil contains an essential fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid and may provide some relief.
However, studies regarding the effectiveness of primrose oil are inconclusive.
Again, check with your doctor before taking plant oils, as some can damage your liver or interfere with medications. Potential side effects include headache, gas, diarrhea, and nausea.
Apply an ice pack to inflamed joints to help ease swelling. Cold can also help to numb pain and relax muscle spasms. If you’re experiencing tight, aching muscles, a relaxing warm bath or hot shower can soothe them. You can also apply a hot towel, a heating pad, or other hot pack to help relax tense muscles and relieve pain and stiffness.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist for guidance using heat and cold therapy.
There’s a variety of assistive devices that can help you remain mobile. Splints, braces and neck collars can stabilize and rest inflamed joints. Customized shoes or shoe inserts can provide support for unstable joints in the foot and ankle. Canes and crutches can take weight off joints and make it easier for you to walk.
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