Exercise Tips for Alleviating Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

image courtesy of WebMD

Post Contributor::  Valerie Johnston :: Healthline.com health and fitness writer

While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are several things that you can do to reduce joint pain, joint stiffness, and other symptoms of the disease. A well-rounded, healthy diet; relaxation techniques for reducing stress; and achieving improved sleep are a few lifestyle changes that you can work toward in order to manage your symptoms.

Exercise should also be a key component of your long-term treatment plan for rheumatoid arthritis. Regular exercise will increase your range of motion, increase joint protection, reduce joint stiffness and pain, improve muscle strength, and boost endurance.

Getting Started with Exercise

If you are not accustomed to regular exercise, it is important to discuss your exercise plan with your doctor. Begin with exercises that you can comfortably perform, such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. Only increase the intensity of your workouts after you have built a solid foundation (increased endurance, strength, etc.). A fitness trainer or a physical therapist can provide guidance so that you know how to perform exercises safely and in a way that is suited to your current fitness level.

Before any exercise, it is important to warm up and to stretch the muscles. This will help you to avoid injuries and to comfortably perform a wide variety of range-of-motion exercises. If you experience pain or inflammation during or after exercise, be sure to give your body adequate time to recover. Pain is common during and after exercise, but it should not be excessive. Of course, joint pain comes with the territory if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Using a cold pack on sore joints and muscles after a workout can help quite a bit with pain management. By progressing slowly over time, you can avoid injuries and will be more likely to make a habit out of exercise.

Exercise Techniques for Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Tai Chi

There are specific exercise techniques that can help in reducing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. For example, tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that has helped countless people with arthritis to increase their mobility, sense of relaxation, and overall quality of life. Tai chi incorporates many of the essential management tools—stress reduction, physical activity, mental focus, controlled breathing, etc.—that you can use to manage your condition.

Low-Impact Exercises

Low-impact aerobic exercise is one of the best forms of physical activity for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Swimming, cycling, resistance training, yoga, Pilates, elliptical training, and walking are all examples of low-impact aerobic exercises that will not cause stress to your joints. High-impact exercises such as running, tennis, and plyometrics add a lot of stress to the joints and bones of the body, which can be especially problematic for people with arthritis.

Resistance training has grown in popularity among people of all fitness levels. Free weights, elastic bands, and resistance machines are a few types of resistance exercise tools that are, in general, safe for people with rheumatoid arthritis to use. The degree of resistance can be adjusted according to your current level of fitness and strength.

Swimming is an excellent way for people with rheumatoid arthritis to exercise. Water supports your body during movement so that the stress on your joints is minimized. If you enjoy walking, try walking exercises in a pool. A swimming instructor can show you how to perform various swimming techniques that will help you to increase muscle strength and mobility throughout your body.

Consistency by Customizing Your Workouts

Discovering physical activities that you enjoy will help you to maintain your exercise routine long-term. If you already enjoy going for walks, for example, make it a habit to get out for a walk every day. If you enjoy variety, design an exercise plan that includes walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, and other fitness techniques. Finding your exercise niche will help you to manage your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms more effectively.

Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer for Healthline.com, keeping up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.  With ambitions of one day running a marathon, she resides in East Texas.

In Case You Think I’ve fallen Off the Face of the Earth……..

artwork by Shel Silverstein

I’m back!

Hi everyone!  For those of you who have followed this blog, you may have noticed that I abandoned writing for an unusual length of time.   What you don’t know is a company that didn’t appreciate one of my articles was trying to sue me.   I had received stacks and stacks of paperwork and I read every sentence.  I was never actually sued, just threatened.  They even threatened to put me in jail.  Who knew, a young rheumatoid arthritis sufferer could get so much attention?  Handcuffs could really hurt.  ;P  I don’t believe even for a second that they had a case but just for the record, anyone can be sued for anything at any time.  Guilt seems like an unnecessary ingredient in the court room these days.  It didn’t matter that I was sharing an experience, and that freedom of speech is a right. What mattered was that I grew tired of dealing with it, and in turn, they had shut me up.  They had accomplished taking away my voice.  Because of this, I left the blog world for a long while.  I even stopped writing entirely.  I didn’t even notice when I hadn’t renewed my internet hosting account.  I was sort of turned off.  Even journal-ling felt like a chore.  I turned my focus on other things, other things that were also going on in my life and taking up all of my time.  But because I stepped out of the habit of writing for so long, when I sat in front of the computer, I was stumped.  How was I able to come up with words?  You know, those letters that are grouped together and with some effort, turned into an entire sentence and then a paragraph that then becomes an entire article?  Even the very first word seemed difficult.  Hello.  Hi.  Uh…..    This time, more determined than ever and knowing that the writer in me still lives, I decided to return to some of my old habits, otherwise that very first article would never appear.  I did in fact post an article but a friend of mine let me know that it sounded like I just wanted to hear myself think….  It was the equivalent of ordering 2buck chuck for guests that are expecting fine wine.  In the right circumstance this is great, but as my first post, it needed to sound like me, not a watered down, just going to write a bunch of mucky junk and call it a post.  No, that wasn’t going to get swallowed easily.  It needed to sound like me, the old me, the me that had an opinion and was fallible and was always searching for something more.  Just an fyi, if you do like wine, I’m all about the organic red Green Fin from Trader Joe’s.  Incredibly affordable!  Oops, that’s a secret because they’re always running out.  Leave me some!  My point is, my voice was still being suppressed because I had buried it so very deep.  I am proud to say I think I’m finding my voice all over again.  I think my writing is certainly rusty and grammatical errors are bound to appear, but I want to say thank you all for your support and thank you dear friend for giving me that critique. It was the permission I needed to bear my soul.   Ahh, I like the sound of that!

Can You Trust Your Doctor?

In my case, I don’t think so, but I’m hoping in your case that you CAN trust your doctor.

For those of you that have been following my blog posts, I have been out of insurance (but now have it) for the past three years.  Losing my insurance, because my husband lost his teaching job and we could not afford Cobra, was a blessing to a certain extent because it forced me to try alternative methods, and I found some excellent ones, including my two favorite, Low Dose Naltrexone and Serracor-NK.  Raising my Vitamin D levels and B12 have also been some excellent choices of mine along with other great choices like fish oil, etc., all improving my quality of life.  RA is very hard to control.  Just talk to anyone who’s on the conventional meds and you will find that many still haven’t found the right cocktail, and most are still experiencing joint damage despite taking DMARD’s.   I’m certainly not against drugs, but I will say that taking alternatives has opened my eyes to the possibility of healing my body rather than just suppressing the disease.  So now that I have insurance, it means for me, going back to the doctor, not to see what my choices are, but to get blood work done, x-rays and let the doctor know what choices I’m in favor of.

I hadn’t seen my favorite nurse in several years.  She gave me a giant hug.  “Wow, you look great!” she said.  She asked me what I was taking for my RA.  I told her supplements, but that I wasn’t on any drugs except for the occasional prednisone.  She said, “Wow, it’s really working, you look fantastic!”

Unfortunately, my Rheumatologist experience was definitely a poor one.  Before this Rheumatologist, I had researched and found a much older gentleman who became my Rheumatologist for approx one year.  He was open-minded, not against antibiotic therapy, not against supplements or icing my arm which proved to be the most beneficial in reducing the inflammation in my left forearm in particular, and he had enough experience and knowledge that I felt I had found a good doctor.  When I saw him for the first time, he ordered one x-ray of one hand.

After one year however, he retired.  He told me he found an excellent replacement, a young woman graduating from UCLA.  I was disappointed that I would no longer have my old doctor, but I was open to having a new doctor, especially a woman.  When I met her, she seemed nice enough.  She was young and beautiful and very friendly.  She sent me to x-rays and for blood work.  When the radiologist told me I had 30 x-rays to get done, I thought, “Really?”  At that time, I was not as forthright with my care.  I didn’t put my foot down and say, “that’s way too many.”  Instead, I let the x-rays happen, including one to my throat (which I have hypothyroidism and that’s never a good idea) and including one to my pelvis, (I am of child-bearing age and that’s never a good idea either).  And then I lost my insurance and I got a bill of $700 for all my x-rays.  I fought the bill for over 6 months, and eventually the insurance took care of it.  I was unhappy with the doctor because you should never expose yourself to that much radiation.  X-rays are cumulative, and even though there’s no clear evidence of how much is too much, I’m on a healing path, not a path of increasing the toxins in my body.   And having had a doctor, a great doctor, who only ordered one x-ray, and one later on to compare, I knew that 30 x-rays were approximately 29 too many.

What I find interesting, is that when you look for information on the internet, it’s always, “Well you’re exposed to radiation all the time from natural sources.”  But what makes this ok?  Why would you then want to increase your exposure?  Two wrongs don’t make a right, right?  It’s easy for doctor’s to poo poo the fear of two many x-rays, while billing your insurance, putting money in their pocket, but let me just say this, a close relative of mine who is a radiologist, was quite upset to hear that I was exposed to 30 x-rays before and thought my doctor was a quack and just trying to pay off her college loans.  He chooses not to get x-rays whenever they aren’t absolutely necessary.

I hadn’t seen my new Rheumatologist in almost 3 years and I was convinced that she had probably learned a thing or two since I had last seen her.  Or maybe she would at least know not to give ME so many x-rays.  I was open to the possibility that I just needed to give her a second chance.  Maybe before, she just didn’t know.  She was surprised how flexible I was and how little inflammation and deformity I appeared to have.  So there you have it, my supplement regimentation is working to a certain extent.

At the end of the apt., she asked if I was open to getting my hand x-rayed.  “Sure”, I said, “but please I don’t want any x-rays of my thyroid or ovaries because that can be very harmful.”  She didn’t say anything, so I wondered if she knew what I was referring to and sent me down for blood work and x-rays.

When I saw the technician, he said, “Ok, 18 x-rays today.”  I said, “What?  How can that be?”  And he explained that there were several of each hand, several of each feet, etc.  At first I thought, “well ok, it’s just the hands and feet.”  But thinking back to how many my previous Rheumatologist exposed me to, (totaling two) and considering just 3 years ago, this doctor had exposed me to 30, I told the technician I’d pass.

I walked back to my Rheumatologist office and handed the paper ordering the x-rays to the nurse and said, “Tell her this is simply too many” and left.

I just figured it was time for me to find a new Rheumatologist.  And so my quest begins….

Help Pharmaceutical companies learn about you!

Whether you’re taking pharmaceutical drugs, or alternative medications, be part of a survey so they can get a better idea of what people need.

Centocor Ortho Biotech and UCB Pharmaceuticals is looking into researching two specific demographics of RA sufferers. The first group is for people who are using IV therapy and the second group is for people who are not using IV / injection treatment and are not using biologic meds.  Take this quick and easy survey if you’d like to be part of research.  It will only take a few minutes, I promise!  ((CLICK HERE))

What’s Making You Sick?

Obviously if you’ve come to my site, you probably have an autoimmune disease or know someone that does.   Your body is working against you.  So not only is your body making you sick, but perhaps your medications give you side effects or constant popping of supplements has you feeling ill.  Or could there be something else going on that you don’t realize, in addition to these things?

I want to tell you a story about a recent experience of mine.  I joined a clinical trial because I don’t have health insurance, and I was interested in getting some blood tests for free.

I was of course disappointed when I found out I wouldn’t be paid and the drive was quite far.  I would lose a little bit of work here and there, and even more importantly,sleep.  Still, I rationalized at the first visit that if I had the real deal and not the placebo, it would be worth the drive. The tests and the pill would add up to a lot of money, so why not give it a shot?

When I got the pill, I rushed to my car and even though I know you’re not suppose to break open the capsule, I did. I eagerly wanted to know…did I have the placebo or the real thing? It was a bright orangy yellow and it tasted, from what I could remember, like turmeric. I was ecstatic! I believed I had received the real thing!

I began taking the pill as described… 2 pills twice a day for one week, then 4 pills twice a day from thereafter.

My blood tests at initial visit showed that my CRP was within normal range. I still had substantial inflammation in my hands, but the doctor was surprised with my “normal” results.  My next visit however, about a month later, I was having more inflammation and my tests showed it, along with my joints. I chalked it off as being a “healing crises” and continued taking my pills, thinking they were going to soon give me great benefits.

About a month later, I went in again. This time I was doing much worse. Test results showed higher inflammation, hands were far worse and elbows and other joints, including my neck were starting to become painful and really stiff again, something I hadn’t had in years. If you don’t know what this feels like, it feels exactly as you would imagine waking up from a bad car accident would feel like.  Instead of waking up in the hospital bed, with hovering nurses and family, you’re waking up in your own bed, turning off your alarm clock and forcing yourself through the disability and pain to get through your day.  Your neck feels like whiplash, your hands and wrists won’t bend and it hurts to be touched.  Driving is dangerous and near impossible but you do it anyway.

The doctor told me I could come off the pill if I wanted…he hated seeing me suffer. He said the other guy asked if there was prednisone in the pill because he was feeling so good. But since I’ve taken lots and lots of supplements and experienced the “healing crises” first hand from many of them, I decided, “the worse the flare, the better the pill”. I explained to the doctor what had happened to me on other pills that ended up working out and that I had hoped turmeric wouldn’t do that to me, but since it is, maybe I’m not on the placebo and I’ll be reaping benefits here soon. He seemed surprised and sent me on my way. Secretly I was thinking, “wow, how can he not know about the healing crises?” And I felt FOR SURE that I MUST be on the real thing!

But then things got worse…. I missed an entire week of work. yep, seriously, I did. And I continued taking those stupid pills. I kept thinking, “i’m really going to feel great any time now.” But I didn’t. I got night sweats, aches and pains, extreme fatigue… I was at an all time low, one I hadn’t been at since the beginning of my RA, or at least not for some time. I improved my diet, took more pills of the supplements that I knew worked and felt confused why I wasn’t getting better.

Finally it occurred to me, “maybe I’m not on the real pill.” I came home one evening, made a plate of one teaspoon of real turmeric on one side, and the pill’s contents on the other. My husband and I did a look and taste test. The colors were different for sure. And the taste…. turmeric has a very distinctive taste. The powder from the pill however in comparison, I realized, tasted like flour, maybe???? but definitely not the turmeric on the other side. Nope, compared to that, it didn’t have a taste. My mind must have deceived me when I tried it before! I had been so hopeful!  I just stupidly thought that they wouldn’t go to so much trouble and make a powder that looks and tastes like turmeric. Well they did, I was wrong, although the taste in comparison, ISN’T the same, now that I realize.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out all the ingredients that were in the placebo pill.  But for sure, I had been taking yellow #5 and yellow#6, as well as potato starch.  I am assuming the main ingredient was probably flour.

The day after I stopped taking the pills I started to feel better.  Recovery has been slow but consistent.  It’s completely apparent to me, that my intake of 8 pills a day of possibly flour and food coloring was the big culprit of my wild, almost four month flare.  Since then, I have been trying to eat very cleanly, no processed foods, trying to get my system back to normal again.  Luckily I am feeling fairly good again, but I really did learn a valuable lesson. That lesson is, my body doesn’t have “allergic reactions.”  Instead, over time, it reacts by an increase of inflammation, damaging tissues, organs, and joints.  As a result of this experience, I am far more aware than I ever was, that processed foods and food colorings are a big no-no.  Sure, they are extremely hard to avoid on a daily basis, and I have slipped up a little.  But in general, I am eating a very clean and organic diet and I’m hoping in time my body will continue to improve.

So ask yourself, what are you eating that might be fueling your fire?  Perhaps it’s time to try avoiding it for at least two weeks, which should be enough time to feel the difference.  And let all of us know what increases your inflammation, because we’d all like to know!  :)

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