Lifestyle Modifications

While there is much about having a rheumatic disease that is not under your control, managing a variety of lifestyle issues can help make your condition easier. These include:

  • Apply cold to joints or painful areas for occasional flare-ups. Cold may dull the sensation of pain in the first day or two. Cold also has a numbing effect and decreases muscle spasms. Do not use cold treatments if you have poor circulation or numbness.
  • Apply heat to joints or painful areas. Heat will ease your pain, relax tense, painful muscles and increase the regional flow of blood. You may find it especially helpful before exercising. One of the easiest and most effective ways to apply heat is to take a 15-minute hot shower or bath. Other options are a hot pack, an electric heating pad on its lowest setting or a radiant heat lamp with a 250-watt reflector heat bulb. If your skin has poor sensation or if you have poor circulation, do not use heat treatment.
  • Avoid actions that strain joints, including finger joints, if you have arthritis. Choose a purse with a shoulder strap rather than a clutch-style purse. Use hot water to loosen a jar lid and pressure from your palm rather than your fingers to open it.
  • Avoid jobs or activities that require repetitive motions, heavy lifting or stress on joints. Other activities that should be avoided are ones that involve overuse or injury to a joint.
  • Avoid stress and anxiety. These can cause changes in your body chemistry that can make your symptoms worse. Relaxation techniques or antidepressant drugs can help manage stress and anxiety. Hypnosis, guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation can all be used to control pain.
  • Develop a support system to help you and your family best manage your condition.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet that allows you maintain a proper body weight.
  • Get enough exercise. This helps reduce pain, stiffness and stress while increasing your strength and flexibility.
  • Get enough rest. Being tired and feeling pain are signs that it may be time to rest joints and muscles. The pain associated with rheumatic diseases can make getting a good night's sleep difficult. This prevents your body from producing the chemicals that help regulate pain.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Make a plan with your doctor for managing your arthritis. This will help you feel that you are in charge of your disease, rather than vice versa. Studies show that people who take control of their treatment and actively manage their arthritis experience less pain and function better.
  • Know your limits. Rest when you are tired. Take breaks to relax and stretch regularly.
  • Know your symptoms, and take appropriate actions in a timely way to keep your condition under good management.
  • Maintain good posture. The easiest way to improve your posture is by walking. The faster you walk, the harder your muscles must work to keep you upright. Some people find that swimming also helps improve their posture.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Position your body properly during lifting or activities that may cause stress on a joint or to your back. Use ergonomically correct workstations and joint positioning, keep your body in good condition and use splints or pads when needed to avoid injury or strain.
  • Remain involved in as normal a life as possible. Those who are able to continue working and fulfilling their social obligations - despite their pain - do best.
  • Use your strongest muscles and favor large joints. Do not push open a heavy glass door. Lean into it. To pick up an object, bend your knees and squat while keeping your back straight.
  • Wear comfortable cushioned shoes that properly support your weight.
  • When lifting an object, spread the weight over several joints. For example, use both hands to lift a heavy pan. Try using a walking stick or cane.

In specific conditions, you may need to make other lifestyle modifications. For example, if you have lupus:

  • Avoid exposure to the sun. Wear protective clothing (hats, long-sleeved shirts and long pants) to avoid exposure to ultraviolet light, which can trigger a flare. Use sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Stay out of the sun at its strongest, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Women considering pregnancy should seek medical counseling to see what steps to take for the safest possible pregnancy. Planning and preparing for pregnancy can help reduce risks to you and your baby.