Manage Your Physical and Emotional Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms at Home
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects as many as 1.3 million people in the United States, according to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, and women are up to 3 times more likely to develop this autoimmune disease.
People can develop this type of arthritis for any number of reasons such as genetics, smoking, obesity, pollution or even hormone changes.
While there is no cure, you can take measures at home reduce the number of trips to the doctor and prescriptions and to minimize potentially debilitating side effects
Acupuncture and Massage Therapy Work for Some
Many RA sufferers swear by acupuncture to reduce pain and inflammation, and a Mayo Clinic survey revealed that 54 percent of rheumatologists would recommend their patients pursue acupuncture in coordination with other treatments.
While studies have not conclusively linked acupuncture to the improvement of RA symptoms, enough strong evidence has been established that many more studies are in process.
Massage therapy has been proven to improve a number of RA-related issues such as the strength of hand grip, joint functionality, the range of motion, better sleep, pain, and stiffness, according to the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. It has also been shown that even performing massage on yourself at home can minimize your suffering.
Use Cold and Heat for Different Symptoms
Many doctors and physical therapists recommend hot and cold treatments for temporary relief from inflammation and pain.
Heat sources can help to reduce stiffness and joint pain through home treatments such as warm baths, warm showers, heating pads, hot towels and hot water bottles.
Heat has the ability to ease stiff joints, better deliver nutrients to your muscles and joints and improve circulation that is ideal in preparation for social activities and exercise.
If you experience swelling, inflammation, acute pain, and soreness, a cold treatment is likely a better alternative for you as it restricts blood vessels, reduces swelling, dulls pain and slows circulation.
Some of the best ways to counteract these irritations are to use cold packs, bags of frozen vegetables, cool baths, ice baths and cooling pads.
For both treatments, be sure to take precautions not to burn yourself or to place extremely cold items directly on your skin that may lead to frostbite.
Counseling Should Be Part of Your Treatment
One of the lesser known conditions often associated with RA is depression. The European League Against Rheumatism released a study in 2009 stating that 63 percent of RA sufferers also experience psychiatric disorders from sleep issues to cognitive dysfunction. Eighty-seven percent of those experiencing psychiatric disorders experienced varying degrees of depression.
If you are also experiencing signs of depression, it is important to seek counseling to help manage your disease and the additional challenges it causes in your everyday life.
Counseling can take place in an informal setting with someone such as your pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam, or by speaking with a professional therapist. It may even be helpful to seek out a support group of people also suffering from RA and mental health struggles.
Dietary Changes Might Do the Trick
Certain foods are believed to be linked to flare-ups and inflammation. It is recommended that individuals with RA eliminate foods that can be considered allergens, as well as limit the consumption of foods that are heavy with preservatives and additives.
You should try to focus on foods dense with nutrients, and it may even be beneficial to limit foods containing animal products.
To improve your condition, eat foods that are known to reduce inflammation. This may include fish high in omega-3, antioxidant-rich fruit, and vegetables, certain types of nuts, beans, olive oil, onions, eggplant, and fiber.
All of these foods can help to improve your quality of life, and it is important to restate that many RA sufferers have benefited from a vegetarian and vegan diet.
Herbs and Spices Do Not Have Concrete Findings
While herbs and spices do not have concrete findings in their direct correlation to helping minimize RA symptoms, many RA sufferers swear by them and add them to various foods or drink them as tea.
Some of such items include ginger, turmeric, green tea, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper and willow bark. Despite the fact conclusive evidence has yet to associate these herbs and spices to RA relief, they all have high levels of anti-inflammatory properties; therefore, it cannot hurt to incorporate them into your diet as a way to ward of chronic inflammation and additional pain.
RA is Not an Excuse to Stop Exercise
The American College of Rheumatology emphasizes that individuals with arthritis should be incorporating regular exercise into their daily routines.
They state that those who do exercise on a regular basis will experience improved day-to-day function, better sleeping habits, more energy and less pain.
It is also believed that people who remain inactive can experience even more health issues in the long-term such as heart disease and diabetes.
It is important to start slowly with low-impact exercise and build your way up to be able to participate in competitions if that is a goal. Everyone will be different based on their pain and symptom limitations.
Most RA patients will benefit greatly from yoga and tai chi in both a physical and emotional sense, and both exercises have the ability to become more advanced and challenging over time as you improve.
Meditation Is Good for the Body and Soul
Many people with RA find meditation to be beneficial in both physical and emotional pain management. A number of studies have also been published to back up these claims including a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016 and findings presented at the Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping in 2016.
Participants using this relaxation technique have experienced a significant ease of joint pain by meditating just a few minutes each day.
The same individuals claim to experience less difficulty with depression when they practice meditation daily. All you need to do is find a quiet place to clear your mind a few times a day such as your cubicle or your patio or balcony in the morning or at night.
Rest is Important, But Not Too Much
Rest is essential for the overall health of any person, however sleeping, in general, can become problematic for people who suffer from chronic pain associated with RA whose sleep can easily be interrupted.
To improve your sleep, the Arthritis Foundation recommends avoiding alcohol, caffeine, large meals near bedtime, screentime before bed, tv in the bedroom, naps and bright lights before bed. And, some things might actually help you sleep such as exercise, reading before bed or listening to music before bed.
On the other spectrum of sleep, you may want to spend days in bed at a time during the worst periods of your disease.
This is not always a good idea as it can be associated with depression or lead to other health issues such as exacerbating all RA symptoms, lesions, ulcers and diminished muscle strength. At the end of the day, it is important to get out of bed and be active whenever possible.
Are You Retreating from Social Engagements?
Another lesser known side effect of RA is the desire to retreat from your social life which can be dangerous for your emotional state.
This could be due to the fact that physical activities you once enjoyed are now challenging or because you are suffering from depression.
If you are no longer able to participate in your favorite activities, try to find new activities that match your current capabilities even if it is just meeting friends for cards once a week.
Studies have been conducted across the world with people who are diagnosed with RA and each region of the world has the same issue in that people begin to feel less connected socially when they begin to have more serious symptoms.
It is essential that you speak with a counselor or a therapist to prevent yourself from alienating your friends and family, all of whom are critical to your long-term success in living with this disease.
Supplements Can be Beneficial But Speak to Your Doctor Firstly
Supplements are another way to manage your RA disease in an alternative manner. Before you begin to jump on the supplement bandwagon, it is important to speak with your doctor as many supplements can have adverse reactions to various RA medications.
Wait for them to tell you which ones are safe and which ones are not before you try to incorporate supplements on a regular basis.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends certain supplements that have been medically proven or endorsed by RA patients that include fish oil, SAM-e, Boswellia Serrata, capsaicin, turmeric, avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, cat’s claw, gamma-linolenic acid, and ginger.
Also, be sure to keep in mind that supplements are not federally regulated, so do your research before you choose a brand.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis does not have to stop your life entirely. You can manage the symptoms and pain through any number of alternative treatments mentioned above.
And, be sure to take the time to care for your mental health just as much as your physical health to improve your quality of life as much as possible.