Everyday health is something we all want. But if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis then even the simplest task can become an almighty challenge. Arthritis is a pain for sure, but it is also a debilitating condition that brings stiffness to your joints, swelling around your tendons and general discomfort all through your body. And, unsurprisingly, with this level of pain enduring for days, weeks, months, even years, it can also exact a very heavy toll on your mental well being.
Use Assistive Devices to Live Better with Rheumatoid Arthritis
For many sufferers the unpredictability of the sudden and severe flare-ups is particularly hard. Often it is simply not possible to know what brings on the attacks and what therefore might be done to avoid them. They can be triggered by cold weather, lack of sleep, strenuous exercise, or any number of other things. And when the joints are on fire and the pain is intense it can feel doubly cruel that sometimes those around you (including family and friends) don’t really understand how you are feeling because the symptoms aren’t visible.
In recent years there has been an expansion in the number of aids specifically designed with arthritis sufferers in mind. These are devices that make it possible to manage every-day tasks such as opening and closing lids, holding keys, and turning taps on and off. It’s also now possible to position grab bars and handrails throughout the home to provide additional safety on stairways, hallways and in bathrooms. And I know from experience how effective a simple pair of arthritis gloves can be at bringing a measure of relief to the sufferer.
When should you consider using assistive devices?
There are now so many arthritis care devices on the market it can be hard to distinguish between those that are worthwhile and those that are unnecessary. Perhaps when choosing an arthritis aid the question should be, “does this gadget make my life easier?” and if it does, then it is worth having.
Undoubtedly arthritis makes it hard to perform any task that puts pressure on joints. All the pushing, pulling, turning, and twisting motions can become practically impossible. So it is worthwhile searching out the devices that make those tasks easier. For instance, an electric tin or bottle opener, a rocker knife or a food processor will, quite literally, take the pain out of a simple task. And if you include more modest devices such as a long reach handle, a step-up stool to help you reach higher, and tap turners to increase purchase, you can very quickly start to regain control over areas of your every-day life.
Are there other devices worth considering?
In addition to grab bars and handrails for bathrooms, there are easy to open bottles for medicines and other toiletries. You might also want to switch to an electric toothbrush or an electric razor to ease the strain of a repetitive action, and a lightweight bath stool can be perfect for those occasions when fatigue gets the better of us and we just need a bit of a sit down – rather pleasant when combined with a rejuvenating shower, and safer too.
When getting dressed, make use of things like button hooks and zipper pulls to overcome the fiddly stuff that irritate everyone but are especially challenging to arthritis sufferers. Also, look for Velcro fasteners wherever possible and use long handled shoe horns and sock and stocking aids to reduce the effort needed to get these on and over your feet.
Aids and devices have their place but what changes can you make to your lifestyle to help you cope with arthritis?
There are a few key things that can be done to alleviate the discomfort and progression of arthritis:
A healthy and balanced diet should provide the necessary nutrients and will contribute to the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Your diet can be varied and should draw from all 5 food groups:
- fruit and vegetables
- starch such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
- meat, fish, eggs and beans
- milk and dairy foods
- foods containing fat and sugar
Maintaining a healthy weight can help with arthritis by ensuring there is less pressure on joints in hips, knees, ankles and feet.
It is difficult to exercise with arthritis because the pain can limit mobility and make it mentally harder to get started. However, staying active will contribute to a reduction in the level of pain while at the same time helping to:
- improve the range of movement and joint mobility
- increase muscle strength
- reduce stiffness
- boost energy
As long as the type and level of exercise is suited to the stage of the individual’s condition then it should not be aggravated or worsened.
To help protect your joints:
- use larger, stronger joints as levers – for example, take the pressure of opening a heavy door on your shoulder rather than on your hand
- use several joints to spread the weight of an object – for example, use both hands to carry your shopping or distribute the weight evenly by using a rucksack
- don’t grip too tightly – grip as loosely as possible or use a padded handle to widen your grip
Living with arthritis
We know that by staying active, avoiding stress, eating well, and using adaptive devices and other aids, it is possible to gain a degree of control over arthritis and to recover a level of functionality. But, significantly, we can also help ourselves by learning to move in better ways. Here’s a few examples:
- Gentle stretching before doing household chores will warm your body and make you more limber
- You should always protect your back by ensuring you bend, reach, and kneel correctly. So, bend from the knees, not the waist, and don’t stand too long and or you’ll put undue pressure on your back.
- Don’t stretch to reach. Bring the object to you, either by standing on a step stool or using poles and wands with extended handles. The point is to keep your arms close so that you don’t strain your shoulders.
- Kneel correctly. Don’t kneel on both knees simultaneously; kneel on one, then switch often. This will spread the pressure more. Also, wear knee pads or cushion your knees with a pillow or article of clothing.
As an arthritis sufferer we still want to lead a healthy and active life. It is what we deserve and it is much more attainable than we might think. Making correct lifestyle choices, looking after our body, and selectively using the available arthritis aids and devices, will go a long way to ensuring that arthritis becomes less of a pain.
Please note that this article does not assume lifestyle changes and the use of adaptive devices will alleviate the pain from chronic rheumatoid arthritis. In such instances, and where the individual is taking prescribed medication, the suggestions presented in this article are not to be considered as alternative options and the advice and guidance of a doctor should always be sought.