One of the hardest aspects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to explain to others is the unique way pain affects our lives. Unlike with osteoarthritis, where specific joints are affected, inflammation can cause RA pain to pop up anywhere, and even migrate from joint to joint. When I was first diagnosed, my hands and feet were where I hurt the most. Now, however, I may experience pain in my knee, my shoulder or even my elbows. And of course, there are times when I am afflicted by malaise, which makes me feel like I have the flu, and so I ache all over.
Getting the Pain Under Control
The first step in dealing with RA pain is to get it under control. Popping pain pills isn’t the answer. Inflammation is the cause, and so reducing inflammation is the solution. Depending on the degree of inflammation, your doctor may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs or a commonly prescribed steroid such as Prednisone. If one joint is particularly swollen, you may receive a cortisone shot. In most cases, you will also take some form of DMARD, a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug in order to reduce inflammation on an ongoing basis.
Dealing with Flares
Of course, just because you’re receiving ongoing treatment doesn’t mean you won’t ever get a flare-up when your disease becomes more active and you experience more pain. Those are the times when extra measures may be necessary, whether it be adding additional drugs to your current regimen, or evaluating whether you may need to change your regular medication. The key is keeping in touch with your doctor, and watching for triggers that may have caused the flare. Certain food and drink, stress, and lack of exercise can all contribute to flares, and sometimes changes in your routine can also calm flares down, lessening the pain.
Keeping Pain at Bay
While pain can come and go with RA, I have found I can take certain steps to keep it at a minimum. Working with my Health Advisor, staying hydrated, taking medications on time, exercising, and watching what I eat all make a big difference in helping me feel my best. I also pace myself in my daily activities, taking time to rest and also making time for my spiritual and emotional health. Knowing I’m not alone in my journey can make a big difference, easing the pain of living with RA.