Better Me

26 Tips for Living Well with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know how difficult and painful it can be to do everyday tasks like opening a jar or a door. And struggling with pain throughout the day can be exhausting and can cause your symptoms to flare.

While there’s no cure for RA—it’s an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the joints—there are some tips and strategies you can use at home and at work to make living with RA easier. Erica Illium, an athletic trainer with Banner – University Medicine who works with people who have RA, shares lifestyle modifications and home-based strategies that can help you manage RA symptoms and improve your quality of life. 

Around the house

Creating a comfortable, accessible, arthritis-friendly home environment is key. You can design your home to make life with RA a little bit easier by making daily tasks more manageable, so you have less muscle fatigue and joint pain. Here’s what to try:

  1. Keep things you use every day at counter height. That way, you’ll be able to reach them more easily without bending your joints. 
  2. Use a trash grabber tool to reach things on higher shelves. 
  3. Put lazy Susans or turntables (revolving trays) in areas where you need to make multiple household items more accessible. You can use them inside kitchen cabinets, on kitchen counters or in the bathroom. 
  4. Use electric tools and other types of assistive devices to do things you need to do in daily life, like open cans. You can even find tools that peel fruit and chop veggies. You can search online for “assistive devices for RA” or “assistive technologies for RA” to find a range of tools to make everyday tasks easier.
  5. Wear supportive, non-slip tennis shoes. Shoehorns can help you put them on and off.
  6. Clean your toilet with cleaning tablets. That way, you don’t need to hunch over and strain your joints.
  7. Invest in a robot vacuum if you can afford it. Your floors will stay clean with no effort on your part.
  8. Install railings to make it easier to sit and stand. You may need them by your bed and toilet and alongside your stairs to help prevent falls.
  9. Use toilet seat risers or install a higher toilet to make it easier to get down and up.
  10. If you have mats or rugs in your living room or elsewhere in your home, make sure they’re non-slip. They give you better traction and reduce the risk of a fall, which is especially dangerous for older adults.
  11. Keep your home clutter-free so you’re less likely to trip.
  12. Use your strongest joint to move large items. For example, when you push a door open, use the side of your arm and your hip instead of your wrist and fingers.
  13. If you replace or upgrade your appliances, keep accessibility in mind. A refrigerator with the freezer in a drawer at the bottom is a good choice, as is a raised front-loading washer and dryer.

At work

Accommodations in your workplace can make you feel more comfortable so you can focus on your job, not on pain.

  1. Plan your day around the times you have the most energy. Pace yourself and build in breaks.
  2. Use an ergonomic computer mouse that is more comfortable for your wrist.
  3. Try an ergonomic office chair—you can adjust the seat height, backrest and armrests to give you the most support.
  4. A desk that can switch between sitting and standing can keep you from getting stiff—it gives you a break from prolonged standing or sitting.
  5. When you’re sitting, use a box or small stool under your desk to elevate your feet from time to time.
  6. If you do a lot of work on the phone, wear a headset instead of holding a phone up to your ear.
  7. If you need to write a lot, use voice-recognition software.
  8. Try to rest, take a gentle walk or apply heat to your joints during your lunch break.
  9. Request a parking space close to the door if you drive to work.
  10. Take breaks to stretch and move.
  11. Ask for accessibility tools such as easy-to-open doors, grab bars, raised toilet seats and railings.
  12. Talk to an occupational therapist (OT) for personalized advice about making your workplace more accommodating.
  13. Connect with the Job Accommodation Network to learn about workplace accommodations covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis

There are steps you can take to feel better. Illium said that putting warm cloths over your joints can help them feel more comfortable when you’re in pain. And stress management can make it easier to deal with the stress you may feel from living with RA.

Getting some physical activity can help improve joint flexibility, reduce pain and enhance your mental health and your overall well-being. Low-impact exercises that may be suitable for people with arthritis include swimming, gentle yoga, tai chi, Pilates and walking. You may also be able to strengthen your muscles with resistance bands or light weights.

And if you’re overweight, losing weight can ease some of the stress on your joints. Consult with your health care providers or physical therapists to develop a personalized plan for regular exercise and weight loss. It’s important to balance exercise and rest when you have RA.

Be sure to see your doctor two to four times a year to review your treatment plan and make any necessary changes. Be sure to take any medication as directed—it’s a vital part of your treatment plan.

Learn more about RA

These resources can help people with RA learn more about the condition and connect with the support they need for daily living:

Of course, you can always reach out to your health care team for personalized advice and guidance.

The bottom line

The joint pain and stiffness you experience with rheumatoid arthritis can make everyday tasks at home and work difficult. But there are steps you can take to make it easier to manage your symptoms and keep your pain under control. If you would like to connect with a health care professional for more tips about living with RA, reach out to Banner Health.

Other useful articles

Senior Health Wellness Rheumatology