Effects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can vary from person to person, which means what works for supportive care will vary as well. Work with your healthcare team to find what works best for you. Some options that may help manage pain, inflammation, and stiffness, and improve function include:
Both heat and cold may provide some relief depending on your current situation.
Heat improves blood circulation to the treated area. Applying heat via warm soaks, whirlpools, paraffin wax, or heating pads can be very soothing. Each heat application has different guidelines. Talk to your healthcare team and try different options to see what is best for you.
Cold can help decrease inflammation in an affected joint, thereby relieving pain and improving stiffness and movement. Apply an ice pack for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times each day. Place a towel between the ice pack and your skin.
Flare ups or progression of the disease may improve function and decrease stress on joints. Options will depend on the joints that are effected. Some include:
Certain daily activities can become challenging with RA such as buttoning or zipping your clothing, opening jars, or opening doors. Special equipment is available to help with these tasks to maintain independence. An occupational therapist can help with selection of assistive devices and training to help adapt to changes.
Handout on health: Rheumatoid arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Updated August 2014. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Rheumatoid arthritis. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal_and_connective_tissue_disorders/joint_disorders/rheumatoid_arthritis_ra.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 10, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Using heat and cold for pain relief. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/remedies-and-therapies/heat-cold-for-pain-relief.php. November 3, 2014.
Welch V, Brosseau L, et al. Thermotherapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD002826.
Occupational therapy for arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/remedies-and-therapies/arthritis-occupational-therapy.php. November 3, 2014.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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