If you feel like some days your life is a grind, that may be because it actually is.“Much of what we do is repetitive every day,” says Carole Dodge, OTR, CHT, an occupational therapy supervisor and clinical specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Seventy to 80 percent of tasks are done on a daily basis, and the other 20 to 30 percent may vary.”
And when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and even fatigue can make it more difficult to complete everyday tasks.
The good news: There are steps you can take to help ease your RA symptoms while going about your day-to-day life. Try these five simple modifications to help make these daily duties easier on your joints.
1. Carrying your purse Lugging too much stuff around can tax your joints, increasing pain, inflammation, and discomfort caused by RA. “Choose a smaller and lighter purse whenever possible,” says Dodge. Handbags made of fabric are typically lighter than leather, and those with wider straps help disperse pressure and distribute the weight from your bag more evenly. “You can also try placing a wristlet in a larger bag. This provides easy access to take a few necessities with you when you run errands, while allowing you to leave the larger bag at home or in a locked car.” Cross-body bags and backpacks are also joint-friendly solutions.
2. Talking on the phone Holding the phone up to your ear — or worse, cradling it between your ear and shoulder — can strain your arm, neck, and shoulder joints. Some conversations require privacy, but “try to use a speakerphone or headset whenever you can,” says Dodge. And tapping on the phone can trigger joint pain too. “When you’re texting or e-mailing on your cell, consider using a stylus to type to help limit movement in the digits and wrist.”
3. Working on the computer Sitting at a desk all day can do a number on your lower back, and a study published in 2014 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that sitting too much can even lead to a shorter life span. Step away from the glowing screen and walk around for at least five minutes every hour, and make sure your desk has an ergonomic setup. While you’re typing, “try using document holders that attach to your computer monitor at eye level to help reduce neck strain,” says Dodge. And skip the wrist rest. “I’m not a fan, because they can lead to carpal tunnel symptoms.”
4. Driving your car Not only can long commutes aggravate your lower back, but holding the steering wheel for long stretches can cause hand and wrist discomfort too. “Try using a padded wheel cover so you don’t need to grip as tightly,” says Dodge. When you’re shopping for a new car, pay attention the bells and whistles. Consider models with automatic car starters so you don’t have to hold a key, heated seats to soothe bones and joints, and door handles and gearshifts that are easy to operate. “And when you have RA, cruise control is your friend,” says Dodge.
5. Getting ready for bed If you haven’t already, it’s time to upgrade to an electric toothbrush and a water flosser instead of a manual toothbrush and floss. “Any time you can use an electric gadget that limits active hand gripping, you should do it,” says Dodge. And before you hit the sheets, make sure your thermostat is set to work in your favor. “Adjust it so the heat goes up in the morning to help warm up your joints before you need to get out of bed, because cold temperatures lead to more pain.”