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Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Around 400 000 people in the UK have Rheumatoid Arthritis. This autoimmune condition causes joint pain and swelling as well as warmth and skin redness around the affected joints.

Joint stiffness is also common, especially first thing in the morning and after prolonged sitting. In addition to pain, fatigue can also be a difficult symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis to contend with. When these symptoms worsen it is called a flare-up. Flare-ups can be distressing and make everyday activities difficult to deal with. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis involves fluctuating symptoms and finding ways to manage.

Physical activity and exercise can help combat joint stiffness by encouraging good range of movement through joints. Regular gentle strengthening exercises are beneficial because increasingly severe rheumatoid arthritis results in muscle weakness. Building up strength before this occurs can improve the body’s ability to cope with daily activities.

High impact exercise like running or contact sports are more likely to cause flare-ups so opting for more gentle activities like swimming, walking or even low resistance cycling can be a great way to stay physically active. Prolonged inactivity can contribute to weight gain which can further stress inflamed joints. In general it is important to not push through pain, pacing yourself and taking breaks can help with symptom management.

Recognising the early stages of a flare-up can be a powerful tool. Although flare-ups can occur anytime, early warning signs can include worsening symptoms and fatigue (especially after periods of stress or following an infection).

Depending on which you feel sounds better, either heat or cold can offer some pain relief. An ice pack can relieve acutely painful, warm and swollen joints. Keep in mind that an ice pack should only be used for around 20 minutes at a time. Using an ice pack for too long can result in your joints feeling stiff so the key is balance! Wait until your skin is no longer cool to the touch before using another one and always have a fabric layer between the ice pack and your skin for protection. A warm shower can be a relaxing way of using heat to ease stiffness and pain after getting up in the morning.

GP’s and Rheumatologists can help find the right medication/s for you to relieve inflammation and pain. Sometimes it takes trying a few different medications before finding something that works for you.